SolSmart award

SolSmart is a national designation program that recognizes local governments for spurring solar market growth. Shown, from left, are Indiana Council President Peter Broad, borough planning/zoning staffer Nicholas Zimny-Shea and Councilman Jonathan Warnock, who went door-to-door as a volunteer for Solar United Neighbors during its recent drive to bring solar panels to the Indiana area. Indiana received a silver award for its SolSmart efforts.

An aquaponics facility could be coming to Indiana.

At Tuesday’s council agenda preparation session, Council President Peter Broad related details of a recent lunch he had with Indiana County Commissioner Sherene Hess and Center for Economic Operations Executive Director Byron Stauffer Jr., as well as three men from a new company setting up shop in the old Duquesne United States Steel millsite in Allegheny County.

According to published accounts in Pittsburgh, Minneapolis-based In City Farms is behind a 180,000-square-foot facility in Duquesne that would use a hydroponic system to raise fish as well as fruits and vegetables.

After the meeting, Broad said Indiana is being eyed by In City Farms as well as the Food 21 effort to build a sustainable food industry in the Pittsburgh region, because parts of the borough are in a federal Qualified Opportunity Zone.

That in turn is a byproduct of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, one that could lead to investments in the borough where individuals using special funds could defer or eliminate federal taxes on capital gains. More than half of Indiana Borough has been included in a list of 300 census tracts deemed eligible by the state Department of Community and Economic Development to be Qualified Opportunity Zones.

“In our estimation it is very similar to a program that was in existence prior to this new program,” said borough Manager C. Michael Foote in a 2018 interview, referring to the Keystone Opportunity Zones program. “The new program is just a bit more robust and has more funds attached to it.”

As announced at the time by state Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin, the U.S. Department of the Treasury approved the commonwealth’s nominations for designation of 300 census tracts, chosen from among 1,200 across Pennsylvania.

In Indiana, the tracts are west of Fifth Street and north of Carter Avenue; north of Philadelphia Street and west of Fifth Street; and covering most of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, as far northwest as Oakland Avenue.

Council had a brief, informational session Tuesday, including reports from borough planning/zoning staffer Nicholas Zimny-Shea and Indiana Fire Association President Bill Simmons.

Simmons presented the state of the Indiana-White Township fire department, as borough council is getting ready to act on the annual agreement with IFA. Simmons said White Township already has signed off on its agreement.

Simmons said there is a need for volunteer firefighters. He recalled there being about 300,000 volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania when he started with IFA in 1979, and today the number is 38,000.

He said IFA normally has 63 members, including a core membership of 43, and others including IUP students. He said eight IUP students are being housed at the IFA station in White Township, out of 40 students who have worked with the fire department since 2006.

He also noted that four of the volunteer firefighters are women.

Zimny-Shea displayed a SolSmart award recently presented to the borough for its efforts with Solar United Neighbors. He said Indiana is the only silver award winner outside of the Philadelphia area, and the only SolSmart winner of any sort in western Pennsylvania.

He noted that, in addition to one unpermitted legacy home with solar panels, 10 received permits in the past year and at least nine of those homes have been completed.

The nonprofit group Solar United Neighbors will host the second annual Pennsylvania Solar Congress on Feb. 15 in Blairsville, attracting solar owners, supporters and advocates from all over Pennsylvania. The event will highlight the renewable energy progress made in Indiana County, where the number of solar installations grew by almost 70 percent in a single year because of a cooperative involving the borough.

Also Tuesday, council chose to postpone a presentation about a non-discrimination ordinance until its next voting meeting on Feb. 18. Council Vice President Gerald Smith and Councilwoman Sara Steelman will make that presentation.