Gate Blocking Access to Cemetery and Private Property, Possible Casino Concerns Discussed at Lawrence Twp. Meeting

CLEARFIELD – A gate blocking access to a cemetery and private property and concerns about a possible casino topped the Lawrence Township Supervisors’ meeting Tuesday night.

The supervisors have discussed the gate erected by the Clearfield Veterans of Foreign Wars near the industrial park and whether it affects a township road in the past, but now a property owner has addressed concerns with the township.

Kevin Mitchell said he and his sisters are the heirs to the James Mitchell estate, and part of that estate includes property in that area, down to the river, and the road to the property was incorporated in 1801.

The road also connects to Fulton Cemetery where some of Mitchell’s family is buried. Mitchell said his family has been prevented from going to the property for 19 years since the VFW erected a locked gate across the access road.

There has been debate over whether the road is an old, unused township road or not. Mitchell recently hired Curry and Associates to survey the area and it appears that the gate may at least block access to the township road, in which case the gate is illegal.

If it does block a township road directly it is also illegal, especially since that road, although unused, has not been vacated. And it appears the township road is blocked regardless with cables and earthen barriers.

Mitchell said he tried to work with the VFW to gain access for his family, including asking for a key to the gate. The commander refused to give him a key, saying there was concern that they might “forget” to lock the gate and vandals would then gain access.

Mitchell said he and his sisters were finally able to visit the property this past weekend and noted that ATVs have been gaining access anyhow and there was damage in the cemetery.

Currently the gate is unlocked, but Mitchell said it is heavy and difficult to open.

After some discussion, the board learned from Code Enforcement Officer Debra Finkbeiner that the lot consolidation and building plans submitted by the VFW for construction of a new building also call for the gate to be removed. Later in the meeting, the board approved those plans and emphasized that the gate must be removed as part of the project.

Shelly Spanogle also spoke to the board concerning the possibility of a mini-casino being constructed in the township. She said she understands the need for more jobs and money in the township, but said there are also drawbacks and fears the cons would outweigh the pros.

She had statistics from research she has done including a trend of targeting lower-income people with a percentage of those becoming addicts, a study done by the Illinois gaming board that showed for 700 jobs created there were 1,100 reported addicts created and there are other issues she did not have time to elaborate on.

The supervisors responded by saying the process begins with a municipality saying they would be open to a casino, but after that they have no control. The licenses are bid on by casinos that then search for locations.

“I do feel the pros outweigh the cons,” Supervisor Jeremy Ruffner added and the supervisors believe most of the business would come from out of the area. Supervisor Randy Powell added that the area already has slot machines in some convenience stores, bars and clubs.

The supervisors learned from the code report and engineer report that the township continues to work towards closing the Sanitary Sewer Overflow in Hyde and more letters have been sent to property owners to take corrective actions.

Finkbeiner said residents may be reconnecting sump pumps and they cannot do that. Powell added that if a plumber tells a resident they don’t have an infiltration problem that the contractors need to look at the laterals during rain events, not during a dry period.

Finkbeiner added that people ask why it has taken so long for the township to work on this problem. She said the township had to do thorough investigation first.

She emphasized the need for property owners to comply as the township cannot absorb the fines once the Sept. 1 deadline is reached.

DEP has ordered the SSO be closed by Sept. 1. If not, DEP will impose fines of $10,000 per day each day the SSO is opened, and the township is responsible for 80 percent of the fine.

After an executive session, the supervisors voted to accept the police union contract. The contract calls for a 40 cent per hour raise and in the third year the employees will contribute two percent to their pension plans.

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