By Garth Shanklin
A long-standing tradition in New Richmond will soon be coming to an end.
The New Richmond Soccer Association has called Beckjord Fields home since the mid-1990s, but due to the decommissioning of the Beckjord Power Plant the league will soon be without a field to call home.
The league is a nonprofit organization that hosts both spring and fall recreational seasons every year, along with camps for aspiring players between four years old and high school age. According to Dale Younts, president of the New Richmond Soccer Association, the loss of the league would force roughly 300-400 kids to either find a new league or stop playing soccer completely.
The fields themselves were donated by Duke, and for that Younts said he was thankful.
“We have enjoyed many fun seasons and are very appreciative of their generosity,” Younts said.
Sally Thelen, a Corporate Communications spokesperson for Duke Energy, said the plans have been in place to decommission the plant since 2011 and the league was notified of the impending move in February of this year.
“Back in 2011, we announced that we would be retiring the Beckjord plant,” Thelen said. “It ultimately was retired in August of 2014. During that process, a number of things have happened at the plant to get it ready for retiring and decommissioning. We’re now in the early parts of the decommissioning phase where we’ll be bringing down the structures on the site and doing that sort of work.”
Younts said he reached out to Duke Energy in an effort to continue using the site, but his efforts were rebuked.
“When renewing the lease for the upcoming year, we inquired about the ability to purchase or longer term lease of the property,” Younts said. “Unfortunately we were refused, with the coming decommissioning of the power plant in the near future as a reason, and were instructed to find a new home ‘sooner rather than later.’”
It is important to note the process itself has not yet begun, and it likely will be quite some time before it does, giving the league at least one more year in their current location. Duke Energy has not yet specified how or when the demolition process will commence, but Thelen said whatever method is chosen is not one they’d feel comfortable executing with children in the vicinity of the plant.
“We haven’t identified the exact method but at other facilities in our fleet across the country, some of that activity involved demolishing through explosives and other manners,” Thelen said. “All of that is not a scenario where we’d want any fields nearby.”
Younts and the league are exploring other options. He said he reached out to the Clermont County Park District, who did offer to help. However, they don’t quite have what the league is looking for available, nor do they want to get into the business of running sports complexes, according to Younts. That has forced he and others in the league to brainstorm other possible solutions.
“Steve [Williams, one of the league’s field managers] and I have bounced around a few ideas, from asking a larger company if they would be interested in purchasing land and donating the use of it in exchange for naming rights to raising funds via GoFundMe and so on,” Younts said. “The biggest issue is coming up with a piece of land with at least a 10-year lease in order to apply for grants to help improve the land to meet our needs.”
With the future of the league itself murky, Thelen added it would be unlikely for the league to return to the fields once the decommission process is complete.
“At this point, I would not envision portions of our properties being available for use in the future as far as I’m aware,” Thelen said. “It’s a multi-year process of demolition that we’re just in the beginning of and how things look at the end of it, I haven’t seen a clear picture yet. I have not heard from others that that is something that is usually a viable option.”
Thelen also pointed out how Duke Energy was of the impact its relationship with the league had on the community, and wished the league the best moving forward.
“We’ve enjoyed being part of the fabric of that community and seeing a lot of kids use those fields and growing up out there but it’s time for us to get the work done on our end that we need to do,” Sally said. “Unfortunately that involves them finding other facilities for that league. We certainly are proud of our relationship throughout the last several decades and we wish them all the best.”
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