Kingston resident Gerald Reisinger spends considerable time in the woodsy areas of Kirby and Nesbitt parks on the Susquehanna River near the Wyoming Valley Levee and told Luzerne County officials Tuesday he continues observing problems.
“If you went there today, I could show you at least 10 camp sites,” Reisinger told the county Flood Protection Authority, which oversees the levee.
Describing the terrain as a haven for criminals and the homeless, Reisinger said he has found weapons, trash and evidence of illegal drug use, including syringes. He said naked men approached when he was in Nesbitt Park with students as a rowing coach for Wilkes University.
“Safety issues need to be addressed,” Reisinger said.
Similar concerns have been raised for at least two decades. A 1994 government study said the riverfront side of Kirby Park had become an “unpatrolled safe haven for the criminal element.”
Authority Executive Director Chris Belleman said he will accept Reisinger’s invitation for a tour of the area, though he noted Wilkes-Barre owns Kirby Park and Nesbitt Parks and is responsible for maintaining and policing the riverfront portions of these recreational facilities.
Reisinger included an untamed stretch of riverfront land between the Veterans Memorial Bridge and Cross Valley Expressway as an area of concern. County and municipal officials had considered a new “Riverbend Park” with trails and educational meeting places in this area, but the plans never got off the ground.
Authority member Stephen A. Urban, a county councilman, urged Belleman to review a West Side Parks master plan that had been completed several years ago outlining proposed improvements to the riverfront stretch. The authority should seek grants to fund trails, lighting and other improvements that could increase foot traffic to drive away those who shouldn’t be there, he said.
The 91 acres on the river side of Kirby Park once included a zoo, wading pool and bandshell but was cut off from the rest of Kirby Park when the levee bisected the park in 1936, officials said.
Authority Board Chairman Kevin O’Brien said the authority will alert law enforcement about Reisinger’s complaints.
In other business, county Councilwoman Kathy Dobash sought clarification Tuesday on issues that surfaced at recent county meetings.
Councilman Edward Brominski had questioned why a local college property worth millions of dollars would not pay more than the maximum $676.44 Wyoming Valley Levee fee for non-residential properties that have assessments greater than $750,000.
Authority officials had decided to cap the fee when it was created in 2009 because they weren’t trying to generate more than the $1.2 million they needed annually to cover levee flood-control maintenance costs previously funded by the county’s strapped operating budget, Belleman said.
The fee also must be paid on each parcel within the 1972 Agnes flood zone, which means King’s College and Wilkes University each pay on multiple properties, authority officials said.
Some county officials also maintained the authority should take over levee-raising debt repayments to alleviate pressure on the county budget.
Authority Solicitor Christopher Cullen said Tuesday he does not believe that change is legally permissible because the county — not the authority — borrowed the funds and guaranteed repayment. The levee fee on 14,200 properties would at least double if debt repayments must be shouldered by the authority, Cullen said.