NANTICOKE — As Earth Conservancy Executive Director Mike Dziak looks out over the organization’s Bliss Bank reclamation project, he has concerns.
Even as staff members work to seed an area of the almost 100-acre project, Dziak anticipates some of their good work will be destroyed by ATV enthusiasts whom, he says, lack respect for the property, lack understanding of the project or who simply want to have fun, without thought to the consequences.
It’s been his experience that people may also use the area, located in Nanticoke, Newport Township and Hanover Township, to practice shooting, set fires or drink alcohol.
Dziak, who has been with Earth Conservancy for over 20 years, said oversight of expansive properties during reclamation has been a problem for as long as he can remember.
“People say that this is just the way it’s always been,” he said, “but that doesn’t make it right.”
Also frustrating is because the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts permits are required to move forward with the project, and because those permits require that grass covers open areas, progress is being periodically thwarted by the need to re-seed and resurface damaged areas.
“The Earth Conservancy has responded to the problem with signs and even fences,” he said. “But, both are ripped down.”
He puts responsibility for resolution of the problem squarely on the shoulders of municipalities.
“Municipalities need to pass ordinances prohibiting activities such as ATV riding on these properties and other properties where they don’t have the owners’ permission,” he said. “If there is an applicable ordinance, then it can be enforced.”
Dziak looks to a greater goal than simply the maintenance and aesthetics of properties owned by the Earth Conservancy; he also emphasizes the economic and environmental benefit the properties provide to the area once fully developed.
Looking back to the conservancy’s first project, he remembers an area near the Hanover Industrial Park so scarred by previous mining activity that businesses were discouraged from locating there.
“Areas were so disfigured that they would take one look and say bring me back to the airport,” he said.
The site now provides an attractive recreational area for youth.
Dziak also lauds the organization’s strong partnership with Luzerne County Community College with providing economic growth, educational opportunities and community resources for area residents.
“We were able to donate land to the college on which its Public Safety and Training Institute is now located,” he said.
With ownership of 8,000 acres, mostly in Newport Township, Hanover Township and Nanticoke, Dziak said it is imperative that municipalities assist Earth Conservancy in overseeing those lands to provide the best benefit to area residents.
“It’s costly and time consuming to have to re-seed property after it’s been damaged,” he said, looking out over ATV tracks recently made at the Bliss Bank site. “And it’s totally unnecessary.”
The answer, he said, comes from the passage of ordinances by municipalities, the enforcement of those ordinances by law enforcement and public support and understanding of the efforts of Earth Conservancy.