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      1-17-07  
   
Park maintenance at forefront
Questions raised over city’s ability
to stay on top of upkeep
BURN PILE: A pile of construction materials was recently burned instead of physically removed at Platte Ridge Park. “I wasn’t there and I don’t know who did it,” park director Dannie Stamper told The Landmark. “My department didn’t start that fire or put it out.”
by Stacy Wiedmaier and Ivan Foley
Landmark staff

Performance of maintenance at Platte City's parks has been thrust to the spotlight, with the county threatening to declare the city in default of a maintenance agreement at Platte Ridge Park.

The city and county have a partnership at Platte Ridge, with the county owning the land and city now responsible for maintenance and development.

In addition to problems at Platte Ridge, questions about upkeep and safety at another city park, Riverview, are being raised with fencing materials being stored in plain view in close proximity to basketball courts.

“I honestly don’t know why Platte Ridge is in the shape it’s in,” said Bill Burnett, president of Platte City’s park board. “There are probably some things that we did neglect and overlooked that we should have focused on more.”

The city solely owns Riverview Park, which overlooks the Platte River on the west part of town. Riverview is not a part of the agreement with Platte County, which involves only Platte Ridge.

The Platte County commissioners sent Dannie Stamper, director of Platte City parks and recreation, a letter dated Dec. 21 outlining areas where the county believes the city has neglected to uphold its part of the original agreement to maintain Platte Ridge Park, located along Hwy. 371 north of Tracy. The city has a 90 day period to “cure the material defaults,” the letter stated or the county has the right to take over the park and/or seek a new partnership with another entity at Platte Ridge.

The letter from the commissioners also said, “The defaults involve deficiencies in the board’s performance in the areas of maintenance of the park and related safety and security issues which the board has not adequately addressed.”

A major issue at Platte Ridge, according to the county, is the fact that the city park board chose to proceed with construction of a baseball complex, although the park’s master plan deemed this a future stage. This action has resulted in eroded surfaces, slopes and ditches in the area. The letter alleges the city park board has not established any type of erosion control to stabilize the surface. The board has also laid gravel surfacing in the baseball complex parking lot without considering the park’s original engineering design. This has also caused erosion maintenance issues, the county says.

The board also removed soil at the pedestrian entrance to the baseball complex, deciding to transport the removed soil to another city park.

Platte County says the park board has failed to address the soccer complex as a priority, causing erosion between the south soccer fields. The letter states this area presents a safety hazard. There are barbed wire fences on the park property remaining from old farm fences. These have not been removed and cause another safety hazard. The commissioners also requested the board take responsibility for the public’s safety while they visit the property. Specifically, “caution” and “warning” signage need to be posted as well as construction barriers. Other safety hazards not taken care of include open ditches and uneven surfaces.

The city’s other park, Riverview, has materials sitting on the property which have been left there for over a year. Bundles of fencing--showing some signs of discoloration and deterioration--rest abandoned on the ground. Stamper said the fencing was donated, and his department will eventually install it.

“That old fencing was given to us free of charge by a business near the airport,” Stamper said. “It can’t rust because it’s galvanized metal. It’s been there for a year and it will be fine where it is until we have time to install it.”

Keith Moody, Platte City’s city administrator, said he anticipates the parks and recreation department will install the fencing and said “I don’t see it sitting there as an unsafe condition for anyone.”

A pile of construction materials rested on the Platte Ridge property before it was burned in an above- ground fire. Stamper said this pile was burned approximately two weeks ago.

The materials in the burn pile include what appear to be everything from shovels, rocks, scrap metal, nails, steel cables, cans, and electrical wiring.

Since the park is outside of the city limits and inside the county instead, the city has no jurisdiction to issue burning permits at that location. A representative for the county’s planning and zoning department said nothing exists called a “burning permit” from the county and directed inquiries to the Central Platte Fire Department.

“It was just building material that was burned,” said Stamper. “There were some two by fours and that sort of thing. My department didn’t start that fire or put it out. I wasn’t there and I don’t know who did it. I never called the fire department to tell them and we didn’t have a permit.”

“The county doesn’t have any burn permits to obtain either,” said Larry Bigus, chief of the Central Platte Fire Department. “The city writes the ordinances, and we go by what they say. If they needed to get any permit at all for burning that stuff, it would have been a DNR (Department of Natural Resources) permit.”

Karl Fett, regional director for the DNR, said no permit would have been needed. But Fett said he is curious about the recent burn, explaining that things such as wiring, any plastics, paint cans, etc. are not allowed to be set on fire because materials of that nature "release unhealthy by-products when burned.”

Fett said his department is "very familiar" with Riverview Park, but not Platte Ridge Park. He said DNR issued the city a violation on June 13 of last year for burning at Riverview Park near the compost pile. Fett said that offense involved the burning of plastic trash and other waste .

“We would never allow burning of that kind of waste,” Fett said.

He said that violation was issued to Leonard Hendricks, city public works director. Fett said there was no fine because it was the city's first offense, indicating DNR is lenient on initial offenders. Other offenses would subject the city to a possible fine, he explained.

The complaint in June had been made by a neighbor.

Asked about the recent burning of the construction materials at Platte Ridge, Moody stated: “I presume Dannie (Stamper) is in charge of that area.”

Moody said he knew nothing of the burned materials at the public park.

“I was not aware of anything being burned there,” said Moody. “Was it located near a building of some sort? Otherwise there would be no need for the fire department to be there when it happened. As for getting a permit beforehand, I’m not sure of those procedures.”

The commissioners stated the following in their original letter to Stamper in late December: “The board has failed to remove dangerous debris on the south side of the pond located in the family recreation area, including tin metal, a cattle trough, barbed wire, and other miscellaneous debris piles.”

The city stated in its response letter how the issue will be taken care of.

“These materials were placed in this location by the contractor, and are not viewed as the responsibility of the board to clean up,” the city’s letter said. “But the board will have the items removed and disposed of off site.”

Burnett, in an interview in The Landmark office last week, said he was also unaware of the burned pile of materials at Platte Ridge Park.

“I thought it was a brush pile,” said Burnett. “I don’t know what was in the pile, but I do know it will be cleaned up, even if I have to personally go out there and do it myself.”

As for the overall issue of park maintenance, Burnett said he thinks the parks department as currently staffed can handle it.

Burnett said he wouldn't blame anyone for the current state of parks maintenance.

"I don't want to slam anybody. We've got some issues and I'm trying to take care of them," he said, adding he has been park board president for only two months. He has served on the board since January of 2005.

"If the county looks at it (Platte Ridge Park) within a month, they’ll see an improvement. I think we can tackle it,” he said. “You’ve got to have communication. Maybe if our parks board talks more to Brian (Nowotny, director of parks for Platte County) and their park board, maybe we can take care of these issues.”