Representatives from the Petersburg Rotary Club, Petersburg Indian Association and neighboring home owners turned out for a groundbreaking at Sandy Beach Park Wednesday, October 14, 2020. From left, Irene Littleton, Brenda Norheim, Glorianne Wollen, Desi Burrell, Bennett McGrath, Nancy Murrison, Karen Dillman and Aaron Hankins. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Petersburg’s borough assembly gave the green light Monday to site preparation work for a new playground at Sandy Beach Park. The borough’s newly re-started advisory board, some neighbors and assembly members wanted to pause to get a better idea of the plans for removing trees and placing crushed rock at the borough owned park.

The Petersburg Rotary Club is heading up the replacement of old equipment it had donated decades ago. Organizers gathered last month to mark ground breaking on the project. The first phase of it includes cutting some of the trees, limbing others and putting in crushed rock. 

Several neighbors are not happy with the trees already removed from the park and want a better idea of what the project will look like once its done. Kris Norosz asked the assembly for chance to examine the plans before work continued.

“It’s obvious that action has preceded good planning and public process regardless of how many good intentions there were,” Norosz said. “And the public is not well served when that happens. The public and the parks and rec board needs to see a detailed plan that is to scale for the proposed play area. There needs to be public hearings and meetings to allow their questions to be answered and for their voices to be heard on the matter.”

She took issue with trees cut at the park along Sandy Beach Road away from the playground site which helped buffer the park from the road.

Neighbors also took their complaints to last month’s meeting of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and asked for a chance to give input on the plans. That board voted in favor of a temporary hold on the work until that board could meet with rotary and the public.

Advisory board member Stephanie Hayes read a statement.

“We support a playground at Sandy Beach Park,” Hayes told the assembly. “We don’t mean to stop the playground project, rather we understand Rotary club’s enthusiasm, their need to continue regarding, especially regarding grants, construction equipment and etc. We simply want to have the opportunity to discuss details with them before construction continues.”

The advisory board was just restarted this year and this was one of its first topics to consider.

Another member of the board, Desi Burrell is a member of rotary and project organizer. She thought the public outreach had been done but took responsibility for not contacting others.

“My passion is really about getting this project going,” Burrell said. “We’re coming up on winter. We have a contractor that finally is able to do the work because come spring they’re going to be gone. And I just want to make sure that we can get this project underway as quickly as possible.”

Burrell noted that local company Rock N Road is donating the labor for the site preparation and Rotary has fund raised for the materials and equipment.

Another project organizer and neighboring property owner Glorianne Wollen encouraged the assembly not to stop it.

“I was shocked to feel an element of scolding for the volunteers such as the Rotary Club and people like me who have for years if not decades shepherded the maintenance of areas like Sandy Beach,” Wollen said. “So I want to encourage the assembly to continue to lean on these public private partnerships between groups like rotary to handle fund raising and purchasing playground equipment. That’s how this all started.”

The assembly was mostly supportive of continuing with the project without a pause for reviewing the plans.

Assembly member Jeigh Stanton Gregor noted that the borough did not have the money for doing this kind of park upkeep.

“Our resources right now need to go to getting that pool up and running,” Stanton Gregor said. “It’s been a great public-private partnership with Rotary. I really look forward to getting it done. Again this was approved already and I really want to see it get going.”

However, it wasn’t unanimous. Assembly member Jeff Meucci was interested in a pause.

“You know the advisory board met last week and I just sat in and listened to it and all five members of the board decided just to take a little bit of time and look at all the issues,” he explained. “I don’t see any big controversy in waiting four weeks, having a public meeting with members of the Rotary to make sure we understand what everybody is trying to accomplish here.”

Dave Kensinger moved to postpone the vote until the assembly’s next meeting, to give the advisory board and the rotary club time to meet. That failed on a 4-3 vote with Taylor Norheim, Stanton Gregor, Bob Lynn and mayor Mark Jensen voting no.

The final vote was 5-2 in favor of moving forward with the work, with Chelsea Tremblay and Meucci voting no.