With the end of April came the end of the agreement between the Berks County Commissioners and the Fish and Boat Commission’s verbal lease agreement in regards to Kaercher Creek Park in Windsor Twp. On April 30, 2014, the lease was officially terminated leaving the recreation part of the park, except for the soccer fields, closed off.
As a popular spot for many in Berks County, residents have been angry and frustrated over having the park closed off. In order to address the concerns of the community and to give an update on where things stand currently, Berks County Commissioner Christian Leinbach spoke at the recent Windsor Twp. Board of Supervisors meeting on June 11.
“Believe me, I understand the frustration,” said Leinbach. “From my perspective, and I’m biased, one of my favorite areas is Kaercher Creek. I understand what a gem this facility is.”
Currently the two groups, County Commissioners and Fish and Boat, are still at an impasse over the current agreement which includes indemnification making the county not responsible for the cost of clean-up for any pre-existing environmental issues.
“We are prepared to sign on the dotted line tomorrow with the agreement,” said Leinbach on the stance of the commissioners if Fish and Boat agree to indemnify. “No indemnification, not official agreement.”
Leinbach gave a brief history of the county and Fish and Boat’s agreement over the last 40 years of the park. For 40 years the county leased the land, with no money involved, from Fish and Boat which owns Kaercher Creek. Though there was no money involved in the leasing, the county was responsible for maintenance and any upgrades such as the building that are on the property which the county had built. That lease ended December 31, 2012. At that time, an agreement was not reached so the two groups went to a month to month verbal agreement.
“Last fall, probably late September, we came to a written agreement,” said Leinbach.
He went on to explain about the wooded area that was involved in an Environmental Protection Agency clean-up in 1999.
“The wooded area, just to the west of the concrete boat ramp, was an area that was involved in an EPA clean-up back in 1999,” he explained. “When the clean-up took place in ’99, EPA only involved Fish and Boat because they [Fish and Boat] owned the property. The county was not involved. They [EPA] obviously didn’t really clean it up because the same area was identified in October of last year as an area that needed to be cleaned up. This time however they involved the county.”
The commissioners added the indemnification part to the agreement due to EPA trying to involve the county in the cost to clean up the area that the county does not own and is not responsible for contaminating. That area has been fenced off even before the termination of the lease. No other areas of the park show any contamination including zero contamination of the water.
“We don’t want to be responsible for the things we didn’t cause,” said Leinbach.
Using another park as an example, he explained that in order to clean the contaminated area, the woods would have to be ripped out, the ground there would have to be dug out and gotten rid of. As the roots of trees go deeper, they pull up the battery casings which are the cause of the contamination.
“It’s a mess,” he said of the current upkeep of the park area now that the county is not leasing and therefore not taking care of the maintenance. “And it is going to become a high risk area.”
People who reside around the creek and others in the area have concerns about the weeds that are growing without the grass being cut. Because of the type of organization that the Fish and Boat is, the group does not have to comply with any county or township ordinances including weed ordinances.
The new lease agreement would pay the Fish and Boat $20,000 a year to lease the property unlike the previous 40 year release which did not pay the organization anything.
“It’s not about money. It’s about protecting our tax payers against environmental costs that we’re not responsible for,” said Leinbach.
“We have taken every step that we believe we could possibly take and we continue to be committed to saving this park if at all possible,” he continued.
Leinbach then opened the floor to questions from residents at the meeting.
When asked what the residents and community could do, Leinbach suggested contacting representatives and contacting the Fish and Boat to tell the organization that the community wants the park back. He also noted that Representative Jerry Knowles, Senator David Argall and Congressman Charles Dent have been very supportive and helpful in doing what they can as they want to see the park come back as well.
“This is heavily utilized by the people of Berks County,” said Leinbach. “We think we have a very good agreement in place.”
At the end of his time, Leinbach told residents that if they had any questions to please contact his office.
Currently the only area opened at Kaercher Creek Park is the boat dock. All other areas are closed off with the only exception being the Hamburg Soccer Association fields.