The U.S. Department of Energy remains interested in transferring Clark Center Park to Oak Ridge, and the city continues to discuss that possibility with the federal government even though it could be a strain on municipal finances, officials said Tuesday.
The property could be transferred at no cost to the city. But one of the questions raised two years ago about the potential property transfer was whether Oak Ridge could afford to take over the 80-acre park.
That appears to remain a concern. It costs DOE about $300,000 per year to operate the park, which is in south Oak Ridge on Melton Hill Lake.
“Monetarily, it’s difficult for us right now,” Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said Tuesday.
In 2014, there were Oak Ridge City Council meetings and public meetings about the future of the park and the potential transfer to the city.
On Tuesday, DiAnn Fields, spokesperson for the DOE Oak Ridge Office, said the 2014 meetings showed that the community would like to see the Clark Center property transferred to the city and maintained as a park for the community.
“DOE continues to pursue and foster dialogue to allow the transfer of Clark Center Park to the City of Oak Ridge,” Fields said.
DOE has recently had Clark Center Park surveyed, which is one of several requirements to allow the transfer of the parcel.
“We are interested in transferring the property to the City of Oak Ridge so that it will remain a recreational park for the public,” Fields said. “While there is no timeline for that transfer, there are certain actions that can be undertaken now to allow DOE or General Services Administration to transfer the park. At some time in the future, GSA could be requested to assist in the transfer.”
Also known as Carbide Park, Clark Center park 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.
Watson said the city has a lot of demands on it right now, including a potential move of the Oak Ridge Senior Center from a county-owned building on Emory Valley Road to the Oak Ridge Civic Center. Other major projects in the works that would involve city support, negotiations, or funding include a potential new preschool at Elm Grove Park; a possible transfer of the American Museum of Science and Energy property; possibly relocating the Anderson County General Sessions Court, Division II; and Main Street Oak Ridge, the redevelopment of the former Oak Ridge Mall.
Still, the city is keeping lines of communication open with DOE on Clark Center Park, Watson said.
“We’re still talking,” he said.
Fields said the property transfer could be done either through internal authorities or under the authority of the General Services Administration. The GSA could also help DOE dispose of the 17.12-acre AMSE property on South Tulane Avenue.
An informal survey of Oak Ridge Today readers on one previous story on Clark Center Park found about 93 percent of those voting favored having the city accept the park from DOE. Ninety-three percent of those voting said they live in or near Oak Ridge, and 41 percent said they use the park frequently while 32 percent said they use it occasionally.
In August 2014, the Oak Ridge City Council adopted a resolution authorizing Watson to conduct further discussions with DOE and to provide regular reports on the discussions. The resolution also recognized an interest in soliciting input from Oak Ridge residents regarding possible transfer issues.
Among the questions the public was asked:
- What are the options to finance ongoing operation of the park?
- What amenities/improvements would the community desire?
- Is city ownership the best option? What are the costs and benefits?
- What is the Oak Ridge public’s definition of a recreation use for Clark Center Park?
Among other ideas, city officials and supporters proposed options that included a campground or lodging for visitors, including those coming to tour sites at the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park, and fishing tournaments to help generate revenues.
Officials said in 2014 that the possible transfer was part of the Oak Ridge Office’s assessment of its continued ownership of land across the Oak Ridge Reservation. Watson said then that 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. He said it’s a discussion that dates back to at least 1993.
Council members have called Clark Center Park a “crown jewel” park, but city officials have had a range of questions about the proposed take-over, including its impact on public safety and the potential maintenance costs. Among the questions they’ve asked: 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”?
The potential transfer to the city was considered an alternative to letting DOE turn over the popular swimming, boating, picnicking, and fishing destination to the GSA, which could, in turn, dispose of it.
See previous stories on Clark Center Park here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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