DOE wants Clark Center Park to remain recreational if transferred to city

Clark Center Park Water View

A view of Melton Hill Lake near a boat ramp and between two picnic areas at Clark Center Park in south Oak Ridge.

 

The U.S. Department of Energy wants to ensure that Clark Center Park remains a “recreational park asset” if it is transferred to the city of Oak Ridge, an official said this week.

That ought to be good news to park supporters. Some of them have expressed concern that the 80-acre park could be turned into a gated community or a waterfront development featuring “McMansions” if DOE turns the property over to the city.

John C. Shewairy, assistant manager for administration in DOE’s Oak Ridge Office, said federal officials are interested in transferring the property to the city as a “public benefit conveyance.”

“Given the park’s benefit to the citizens of Oak Ridge, the option we currently favor would be to transfer ownership to the city at no cost, provided that the property remains a recreational park asset for the public,” Shewairy said. “We are focused on this possible option.”

DOE and the city have started a conversation about whether the park might be transferred to the city. Still in its early stages, the proposal was discussed during a recent Oak Ridge City Council work session, and the discussion is expected to resume during a Monday night City Council meeting.

Shewairy said DOE has not set any deadlines for a response from the city, and the department has not established any timeframes for pursuing options to dispose of the property. There are no plans to close the park after Labor Day, he said.

Clark Center Park Beach

The beach at Clark Center Park.

 

Shewairy said the department has several options available to dispose of excess real property.

“In the case of Clark Center Park, we would be interested in transferring the property to the City of Oak Ridge as a public benefit conveyance,” he said.

DOE spends about $300,000 per year to maintain the park. Shewairy said the work is done through a contract administered by the Oak Ridge Office. Depending upon the time of year, one to three employees tend to the park, he said.

Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said the proposed transfer is part of a cost-cutting effort in DOE’s Oak Ridge Office. And running a park is not really part of the department’s mission, Watson said.

Shewairy said Clark Center Park is not part of the Three Bend Scenic and Wildlife Management Refuge Area. In a ceremony featuring former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, that 3,000-acre area on DOE’s Oak Ridge Reservation was set aside in June 1999 as a conservation and wildlife management area. It includes Freels, Gallaher, and Solway Bends on the north shore of Melton Hill Lake in Anderson County.

Watson has said he wants the community to weigh in on the decision about what to do with the well-maintained park. Watson said it’s a discussion that dates back to at least 1993.

This time, city officials and supporters have proposed options that include a campground or lodging for visitors.

Clark Center Park Picnic Area

One of two large picnic areas at Clark Center Park. The park also includes a small playground, two ball fields, boat ramp, fishing trails, and beach.

 

But before agreeing to the transfer, municipal officials plan to seek answers to a range of questions that include: With other competing priorities, can the city afford to take over the park? Also, how would public safety, including police and fire response times, be affected? And what are the implications of having a city beach on a lake, which is now “swim at your own risk”?

Clark Center Park is in south Oak Ridge on Melton Hill Lake. Also known as Carbide Park, it includes two ball fields, two large picnic areas, a small playground, a boat ramp, restrooms, fishing trails, and a beach. It also includes access to the Gallaher Bend Greenway. It’s a popular swimming, boating, picnicking, and fishing destination.

The City Council meeting on Monday starts at 7 p.m. in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Courtroom.

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  • Raymond Charles Kircher

    The DOE doesn’t want the park, but requests that land remains a park. What is this to mean, do they want it or not? Nobody releases property for SALE then asks the new owner not to change its use. This statement shows the lack of will to work to reduce costs while spending money to ensure property no longer wanted remains the same. Who else is willing to purchase a park to keep it a park, may they stand up with checkbook, credit card, or cash in hand. This approach to land use by the Feds is what put Oak Ridge in its problems we deal with everyday in Oak Ridge. Since the city is the only entity who has the ill foresight to take on another park, the land should be given over without cost with a 10 year payment to the city for upkeep to a park the DOE wants to keep a park. That will show their genuine attitude to keep that area a park. After the 10 years and the payments expire, City of Oak Ridge can do whatever it wants with it. Of course, if the DOE wants to be rid of the property, they can sell it to the highest paying person without strings attached of keeping that area a park.

    • johnhuotari

      Raymond,

      DOE doesn’t plan to sell the property to the city. Here’s what John Shewairy, assistant manager for administration in DOE’s Oak Ridge Office, said: “Given the park’s benefit to the citizens of Oak Ridge, the option we currently favor would be to transfer ownership to the city at no cost, provided that the property remains a recreational park asset for the public. We are focused on this possible option.”

      Thank you,

      John

      • Raymond Charles Kircher

        You are saying they want to give this to the city as a gift? The strings attached still apply. We need to be looking at this horse in the mouth. I can give you a car, but that doesn’t ensure you will be able to use it or afford its upkeep, but you must keep it registered and insured. What sense does it make or help that I give it to you with strings attached? I don’t believe you believe this is a gift, John, rather someone dumping their ill fortune wrapped in a perceived Green Bow. Is there not one person who will take over this park and keep it a park, beside a government entity? There must be a reason why; I think I know.

        • johnhuotari

          Raymond,

          I have tried to address some of the issues associated with having the city taking over the park. Among them are infrastructure questions (water, sewer, roads), public safety questions (police, fire response times), and costs, both in terms of maintenance and personnel.

          I don’t think I’ve characterized the possible transfer of the park to the city as a gift. I have quoted DOE as saying they would like to transfer the park to the city at no cost as long as it remains available for public recreation. But city officials have acknowledged that there will be costs associated with taking it over. In fact, during the City Council’s work session in July, Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan said cost will be the determining factor.

          I’m not aware of any other entities who might want to take over the park and keep it a park. A few people have suggested that maybe TVA should be involved, but I don’t know if this is something that TVA would be interested in.

          Council is scheduled to discuss the park during the 7 p.m. meeting today (Monday, August 11) if you’re interested in attending.

          Thank you,

          John

          • Philip W Nipper

            John, in an earlier comment, I suggested that TVA or the National Park Service may be better suited to manage, maintain and improve Clark Center Park much better than the City of Oak Ridge could. An additional entity could be the State of Tennessee as in the State Park system. How does Oak Ridge State Park sound? Its a great place that has fond memories for many Oak Ridgers and should be kept as a park but I just don’t think the City of Oak Ridge needs to be the entity that is shouldered with the burden. My three cents….

          • Raymond Charles Kircher

            A conveyance is just a legal term for gift.

          • Raymond Charles Kircher

            What I am getting to whether a conveyance or deed transfer or sale, is that the strings attached to deals made with the entity releasing this property is killing this city. They aren’t doing this because they care about us, rather playing our emotions to favor their position in this transfer, not good for this city at all. This property should help the city and not put another expense upon tax rate payers without value. If this city wants it just to add to the greenways of this city, I ask all tax rate payers to look at the condition of the greenways currently in this city with its upkeep, nonexistent.

        • WK Hyatt

          I think there is a catch, seems like I saw where in exchange for transitioning the park to City Of Oak Ridge ownership, they would seek a slight reduction in the already too low Payment in Lieu of Taxes or PILT.

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