Hoodlebug Trail

Plans are set for improvements to the Hoodlebug hiking and biking trail, but county officials on Wednesday said the work might not begin until next year.

The county board of commissioners formally accepted a grant of $310,495 from Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to the Indiana County Parks & Trails Department. The money is earmarked for resurfacing up to six miles of the trail starting from the area of Wayne Avenue at Old Route 119, near Divine Destiny Church, and has been leveraged by local payment to Gibson-Thomas Engineering for project design.

That section hasn’t had any work done since it first was marked out in 2000, said Parks & Trails Director Ed Patterson.

Despite the simplicity of the project — application of a new layer of asphalt, leveling and seal coating the surface, compared to property acquisition, extensive design, earthmoving, and ground-up construction required on a new trail — bureaucratic review may delay the county’s next step, advertising for contractors’ bids and beginning construction.

It has already been a long time in coming, according to Patterson. PennDOT denied the county’s first application for a grant, then approved the application that the county submitted in 2017. PennDOT and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) still have the project under study, he said.

John Emerson, of Gibson-Thomas, told the commissioners he shared in Patterson’s frustration with the delays.

“It is a very straight forward project,” Emerson said. “But some of the requirements to bid are above and beyond. If I was going to build a brand new trail I could understand some of these requirements but I’m restoring an existing trail and they’re still holding us to some of the same guidelines because of it being bid through ECMS (PennDOT’s Engineering and Construction Management System).”

“We found out last May it was approved,” Patterson said. “And now they’re telling me it may not be until 2020 when it goes out to bid. Just so people know it’s probably not going to happen this year … unless we can pull some levers on this.”

Commissioner Rodney Ruddock told Patterson he would go to bat on behalf of the project with the SPC, where he is a past chairman and current executive board members.

“I’ll be going down next week to meet with the chairman and maybe I can make a bold request to get this thing done,” Ruddock said. “They’ve had some change in leadership down there, and we need to rekindle that and push a little bit.”

Patterson said the project calls for upgrading the trail from White Township to the area of the former FMC plant in Homer City, but the actual extent of the work will depend on the budget and contractors’ prices.

Ruddock and Patterson briefly discussed the future of the southern end of the trail, on the hill along Route 119 between Blairsville High School and Black Lick.

“It’s a very tight corridor and the attention was brought to us by the Burrell Township supervisors — and they’re absolutely correct — that has to be corrected, and I know you’re on it,” Ruddock said.

“There was some discussion on whether that was actually considered PennDOT right of way and whether PennDOT would have a stake in it,” Emerson said. “We were exploring that option.”

Ruddock said PennDOT’s District Engineer in charge at the District 10 office in Indiana, Joe Dubovi, “said he didn’t seem to think it was, and that was the end of that discussion.”

Patterson said he’s had to push for movement of the Hoodlebug Trail resurfacing like no other project in his experience.

“In the 42 years that I’ve been with the county parks, this is the first time that I’ve had to go to a state rep’s office to get a project moving. First time,” he said.

In other business, the commissioners:

• Approved agreements between Indiana County Jail and Trinity Services Group, Inc., and Keefe Commissary Network, LLC.

Jail Warden Sam Buzzinotti said the jail and the vendors want to extend their existing contracts by five 1-year increments.

Trinity Services, which handles daily meal service in the prison, would provide upgrades to various kitchen equipment under the new agreement.

“The cost of the equipment would pay for itself in that time period,” Buzzinotti said. “If Indiana County decided to change vendors, the county would be responsible for the cost of the equipment that has not been depreciated.”

Meal tray delivery carts, a dishwashing machine and tilt skillets are in line for replacement as part of the deal.

Keefe Commissary Network is offering to increase the jail’s share of funds raised through product sales from 18 to 25 percent, the warden said.

The commissioners ratified the agreements on the condition that county Solicitor Matthew Budash reviews and finds no issues with them.

Chairman Michael Baker, Commissioner Sherene Hess and Ruddock unanimously approved all items of business presented to them Wednesday.

• Approved renewals of private service provider contracts between Indiana County Children & Youth Services and Jennifer Van Wieren LPC, an Indiana-based counselor; The Center for Hearing and Deaf Services Inc., of Pittsburgh; Family Care for Children & Youth Inc., of Milton, Northumberland County, for placement services; and Family Care Services Inc., of Chambersburg, Franklin County, for foster care services and placement.

• Approved an intergovernmental cooperation agreement between the county and the Pennsylvania Counties Risk Pool (known as PCoRP), in the form of an ordinance that calls for the county to accept the bylaws of PCoRP. The organization was formed by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania to “provide property, liability, automobile and other related insurance coverages, loss control, claims services and training to Pennsylvania counties and county related entities.”

• Proclaimed March as Women’s History Month, in recognition of “the notable accomplishments of women in the commonwealth and the county, both past and present, who have worked with vision and determination toward the progress of our citizens and communities,” in Indiana County.

Hess read the proclamation, which acknowledges that “American women have played and continue to play critical economic, cultural and social roles in every spear of life in the nation by constituting a significant portion of the labor force working inside and outside the home … (and that) women have played an important role in the history of Indiana County, the home to many leaders and role models who have laid the groundwork for our future generations.”

• Hailed the appearance of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Crimson Hawks basketball teams’ appearances in the NCAA Regional playoffs, especially opportunity for the men’s team to host one of the regions.

“This is a very exceptional weekend for our institution here in Indiana County,” Ruddock said. “That is a rarity (for both the men’s and women’s teams to reach the national tournament). We want to commend the efforts of both coaches, the university and the team players for bringing it to this level of play.”

Seven more playoff teams will join IUP for a three-round men’s regional this weekend at Kovalchick Convention & Athletic Complex.

“And from the tourist standpoint … that is an attraction because they bring a following. So it’s a nice way to market not just IUP but Indiana County and we’re very excited about that.”

Staff writer/Web Editor, The Indiana (Pa.) Gazette

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the Indiana Area and Homer-Center school boards and White Township, Center Township, Homer City and Burrell Township, and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.