Members of the the Huntingdon County Planning Commission heard from Huntingdon County Business and Industry (HCBI) executive director Robert Reitman during their monthly meeting Thursday regarding moving forward with the Alleghenies Ahead Comprehensive Plan.
The plan encompasses future plans for Cambria, Blair, Somerset, Bedford, Fulton and Huntingdon counties.
“I thought it would be good to bring in some of our key stakeholders and partners in implementing the plan to come and talk to us,” said Huntingdon County planning director Mark Colussy. “A lot of our recreational and trail related projects are very much in his wheelhouse, plus Bob just gets it.”
“I can start with business development. Business development will spur a lot of the other positive changes and add to the tax base. To spur that, I believe it’s obvious we need broadband outside of the Route 22 and 522 corridors,” said Reitman.
Reitman has been working with a regional task force in conjunction with the six-county plan to get the top broadband assets catalogued and brought in, and is optimistic that progress can be made incrementally.
“There are a couple of key businesses that don’t have broadband and are really suffering as they’re bandwidth requirements keep escalating. There need to be solutions to that. But there are a couple of little aggregation opportunities that could happen to extend fiber deeper. It seems like a big county but if you get it a little chunk at a time it’s doable,” he said.
“It’s a little frustrating, the pace of it in these little aggregations. But it’s unlikely Comcast or Verizon will change their models in a big way.”
Reitman also stressed the importance of collaboration within the county to acquire the funding needed to implement the comprehensive plan.
“We have these small units in terms of our governments and nonprofits in the county. Those units are very stretched, so for us to put together the number of grants that we require is extraordinarily difficult. I think we are chronically underfunded. I think we chronically don’t apply for as many grants to get as many benefits back from the tax dollars that we pay out.”
Reitman also noted that with 48 municipalities in Huntingdon County, collaboration is essential.
“So the idea of having sub-units of the zones you guys represent combine to be able to do things on a coordinated basis makes a lot of sense. Convincing each township to do that is not an easy task,” he said.
“Are we stuck with 48 municipalities in perpetuity?” asked commission member Larry Mutti. “Every township has difficulty filling their township supervisor slots, why do they want autonomy if they don’t want the job?”
“It’s beyond just the supervisors, they need auditors, they a tax collector, they need road masters, they need everything that Huntingdon Borough has. So it’s tough,” said Colussy.
“Our way forward has to be really good partnerships and modeling for partnerships and I think we do pretty well on that,” said Reitman.
Reitman thinks that completing the Mainline Canal Greenway project should be a priority.
“One of the biggest economic development projects in my mind is the Mainline Canal Greenway which is supported by the active transportation committee. It’s potentially billions of dollars if we get that done. It would support destination locations along that greenway and would be a magnet for tourists. It could exceed the value of Raystown Lake in the county in terms of return on investment.”
The Mainline Canal Greenway is a 320-mile corridor that follows the historic path of the Mainline Canal System.
The plan is to create a trail connecting to corridor which would span an approximately 61-mile stretch from the Lower Trail in Alexandria to Lewistown.
Agri-tourism is another item highlighted in the plan.
“Our emphasis with that is for agricultural diversification. We have 1.3 million visitors on average to Raystown Lake a year and they don’t have anything to do on a Thursday. We’re trying to give them something to do.”
Examples of agri-tourism include pumpkin chunkin’, having people on farm stays, wedding venues in farms and any kind of active engagement of people in an agricultural setting.
Since the last meeting, Colussy met with officials in Harrisburg to discuss Multi-modal Transportation Funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), and said he feels good about their meeting.
“I’ll be baffled if we don’t get the money,” he said.
If received, the funding will go towards Mount Union Borough’s Pennsylvania Avenue Project, which would replace the retaining wall on the eastbound lane of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Nathan can be reached at email@example.com.