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The Indiana County board of commissioners this week accepted a report from a panel of community leaders and volunteers who have worked nearly two years to define a plan for the county to survive and flourish within the confines of its own resources.

Organizers of the Indiana County Sustainable Economic Development Task Force delivered a bound compilation of its work but reminded the commissioners that sections called “summary” and “conclusion” shouldn’t represent finality. Instead, the “introduction” and “recommended actions” sections should be the guides toward preserving and protecting the future of Indiana County.

They really meant it: the statement, “This report does not complete Indiana County’s path to a more sustainable economy. Rather, it is a reflection of, and continuation of, the forward thinking direction already underway” prominently appears in two places in the document.

“We ask the commissioners to accept our recommendations and not let it sit on a shelf,” said Cindy Rogers, of the panel’s steering committee.

Sustainable development isn’t a household phrase for most people, so the report cites one of the most common definitions — “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

It’s a goal that the task force tackled with three guiding “pillars” to support its recommendations: economic development, workforce development and citizen education.

It offers the commissioners a handful of executive recommendations then explores the rationale for selecting them and ways to achieve them:

• To continue the mission of the Task Force — specifically to work with county and municipal planners to prioritize, determine feasibility, and seek out sources of funding for the recommendations in the current report;

• To establish an entity, such as an Office of Sustainability, to be overseen by a board of directors and charged with partnering with businesses, agencies and institutions to implement the recommended actions;

• To incorporate recommendations from this report into the long-range Indiana County Economic Development/Work Force Development Plan;

• To continue the Summit on Sustainable Economic Initiatives as an annual event; and

• To support ongoing efforts to improve broadband access across Indiana County, to allow Indiana County to be economically competitive and to allow for quality of life for our citizens.

The report goes on to explore successful activities already in place in the county, and meets its mission of identifying new opportunities to achieve sustainability in four areas — agriculture, renewable energy, building construction and materials and environmental restoration and stewardship. In part, the opportunities are presented as challenges, as the report identifies weaknesses of life in Indiana County and presents recommendations for reversing problems and achieving sustainability.

In other business on Wednesday, the commissioners:

• Learned that the county would be reimbursed for far more money than was expected from Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency under a statewide agreement for 911 regional interconnectivity improvements.

PEMA has earmarked $242,623 for Indiana County from the fund amassed from monthly $1.65 charges on Pennsylvania residents’ cell phone service bills, according to Indiana County Emergency Management Agency Director Thomas Stutzman.

He said the county had expected less than $100,000 this year.

• Approved a series of changes to local community development block grant project agreements at the request of Indiana County Office of Planning and Development (ICOPAD).

The revisions arose from a disagreement between the Burrell Township supervisors and Highridge Water Authority over the provisions of an ordinance that would require certain owners of certain properties to connect their buildings to water service extensions provided by the authority.

Burrell officials earlier had committed the township’s allocation of $71,000 for 2016 and $70,000 for 2017 toward a planned extension of Highridge pipelines to Campbells Mill and Falling Run roads, but agreed to designate the funds to the Blairsville Sewer Authority for a project to improve sanitary sewage service in Josephine.

The commissioners also agreed to a change in a block grant-funded project planned in Center Township, where contractors’ bids were far in excess of the project budget.

Center Township supervisors committed the 2017 grant of $73,000 for storm sewer and street improvements in Aultman, and estimated $53,000 for Fourth Street and $20,000 for Entry Way, toward an overall estimate of $128,000.

Lu Ann Zak of the planning office reported the lowest bid was $200,000.

Because of the disparity, ICOPAD proposed delaying Entry Way work until later, committing the full 2017 grant plus the township’s 2018 entitlement toward the improvements on Fourth Street.

• Approved private provider contacts with The Children’s Aid Home program of Somerset County and Vision Quest National, LLC, for service to Indiana County Children and Youth Services.

• Appointed Commissioner Rodney Ruddock and J. Scott Overdorff to seats on the Indiana County Conservation District board of directors. Ruddock will serve one year, through Jan. 1, 2020, and Overdorff was given a 4-year term through Jan. 1, 2023.

• Joined the celebration of Indiana County’s historic production of evergreens, with a proclamation noting the 1918 roots of Silas Streams’ first field of Norway spruce trees and marking the 2018 centennial of the local Christmas tree growing industry.

The county’s tree growers have been known for more than 50 years as a supplier of Christmas trees for the U.S. Capitol, the Pennsylvania state capitol and other destinations across the nation and around the world. Tree grower Ben Johnston, back in the 1950s, invented the first motorized Christmas tree baler, according to the proclamation.

The county tree growers’ association first laid the county’s claim as the Christmas Tree Capital of the World in the 1950s.

Indiana County Tourist Bureau board president Gregg Van Horn and executive director Denise Liggett presented commemorative Christmas tree balls to the commissioners as mementos of the anniversary.

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.