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.
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.
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.