HARRISBURG (AP) - The apparent dismissal of Pennsylvania's state parks director is raising questions about whether Gov. Tom Corbett is making plans to allow mining, quarrying or timbering on or below the lands.
Corbett administration officials have not said whether or why they wanted John Norbeck out of the job he has held since 2006.
Chris Novak, a spokeswoman for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which oversees the state parks bureau, said Thursday that she would not discuss a personnel matter but that there is no connection to timbering or mining efforts.
"DCNR also does not plan to make any changes to policies related to commercial timbering or mining on state park lands," Novak said in an emailed statement. "We have no intention of allowing anyone to cut timber solely for revenue generation on state park lands. We would not allow surface mining where we control the mineral rights."
Norbeck told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday that he received a termination letter on Oct. 1 from the state's human resources office, telling him that his last day would be Friday unless he offered to resign. Norbeck submitted his resignation but asked for and received a two-week extension until Oct. 19, he told the newspaper.
Novak confirmed the Oct. 19 resignation date but would not comment on whether Norbeck was sent a termination letter.
Norbeck said he was told by an executive assistant to DCNR Secretary Richard Allan only that the "administration has decided to go in a different direction."
But Norbeck also told the newspaper he had opposed requests by Butler-based Amerikohl Mining Inc., to mine limestone beneath Laurel Ridge State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania's Somerset County and objected to discussion by DCNR's deputy secretary for parks and forestry, Ellen Ferretti, about allowing commercial timbering operations in state parks.
Ferretti on Thursday declined to comment through an administrative aide.
John Stilley, Amerikohl's chief executive officer, told the Post-Gazette that the company had approached DCNR about allowing mining of the Loyalhanna limestone seam. Amerikohl's operates Jim Mountain Quarry, an all-surface operation that is within 300 feet of the park boundary.
"The limestone belongs to the state park but we made an informal request to see if we can generate some income for the park," Stilley said. Stilley and his family have contributed more than $32,000 to Corbett's campaigns for governor and attorney general, but he told the Post-Gazette that he is not trying to exert political influence.
Norbeck originally was hired by then-Gov. Ed Rendell. The bureau operates, maintains and manages the 120 state parks system and 300,000 acres of state parkland.
Rep. Bud George, D-Clearfield, issued a letter Tuesday asking for a hearing on the matter by the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Scott Hutchinson, Oil City.
Hutchinson, who is running for an open state Senate seat, has not responded. Allan appointed one of Norbeck's assistant directors, David Kemmerer, as acting director before he finds a replacement for Norbeck, Novak said.