County, colleges reach agreement to care for River Common park

i Nov 15th 2017

By Eric Mark, Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice

WILKES-BARRE — The upkeep and development of the River Common park will be a combined effort of county, town and gown.

Luzerne County Council on Tuesday approved a “cooperative agreement” with Wilkes University, King’s College and the Riverfront Parks Committee for maintenance and programming at the park, off River Street near the Susquehanna River in Wilkes-Barre.

“We can do something very good here,” county Manager David Pedri said.

Wilkes and King’s will each contribute $20,000 per year, while the county will kick in $10,000 in state grant funding it receives from natural gas impact fees, according to the agreement.

The county funds will go toward park maintenance such as trimming, weeding and manicuring the grounds, while the funding from the two schools will go toward “continued maintenance and programming,” the agreement states.

The five-year agreement will be in effect from 2018 through 2022, inclusive.

Wilkes-Barre owns the River Common park, but the county leases the land from the city and is responsible for its upkeep, Pedri said.

The partnership and the funding it provides will allow for an expansion of programming at the park, Pedri said.

Programs such as community events and arts performances will complement events and activities the nonprofit Riverfront Parks Committee holds near the river, such as RiverFest and ChalkFest, he said.

Also on Tuesday, council amended the county’s 2017 budget to remove $32,200 in funding for Focus 81, a task force formed “to address safety and congestion concerns within a targeted corridor of Interstate 81 stretching from Waverly in Lackawanna County to Nanticoke in Luzerne County,” according to the Focus 81 website.

That target area is too restrictive, leaving residents of southern Luzerne County and the Hazleton area unrepresented, council members said.

“What about the folks in Hazleton?” asked Councilwoman Jane Walsh Waitkus. “We have a large county; someone needs to take care of I-81 and it’s obviously not Focus 81.”

Councilman Rick Williams said both transportation agency officials and elected leaders need to think seriously about transportation infrastructure, from bicycle trails to interstate highways.

“We need leadership that understands all the different kinds of transportation … to send a message we are serious about transportation planning,” Williams said.

Focus 81 members mean well, but the group needs better long-term vision, according to Williams.

“These are wonderful people,” he said. “But we need to have good transportation planning. In terms of vision and brainstorming to solve problems, it’s not happening.”

Councilmen Tim McGinley and Edward Brominski voted against the motion to remove funding from Focus 81. Councilman Stephen A. Urban did not attend the meeting.

Council also approved a $15,000 settlement of a suit filed by the estate of former county inmate Gary Allen Jones, who was 20 when he was discovered hanging from his neck in his cell at Luzerne County Correctional Facility in December 2012. His death was ruled a suicide. The suit, filed in 2013, claimed the county’s negligence contributed to Jones’ death.

The county will also pay about $4,000 in legal fees associated with the suit, said county solicitor Romilda Crocamo.

Brominski cast the lone vote against approving the settlement.