Centre talks federal flood assistance

Multi-use trail study grant approved

BELLEFONTE — Centre County will receive federal public assistance to help several areas damaged by the October flash flooding.

Jeffrey Wharran, county Office of Emergency Services director, discussed the latest details of this assistance at the Centre County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday morning.

According to Wharran, the federal disaster declaration that President Barack Obama signed will open federal funding for 75 percent reimbursement to local municipalities, which will assist with public infrastructure damage. The state may then reimburse part of the remaining 25 percent, up to 23 percent, for the affected municipalities.

The funding will cover flood damages to Park Forest Middle School in State College, along with damage to roadways, bridges, culverts, railways, and other transportation-related public infrastructure, Wharran explained.

The funding from the federal declaration will not cover losses to individual homeowners or renters.

In other business, the proposed 2.5-mile multi-use trail that will connect Bellefonte to Milesburg is one step closer to becoming a reality.

During the meeting, the commissioners approved a $70,500 grant agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, along with a local match commitment of $14,500.

The grant will be used to fund a comprehensive feasibility study of the multi-use trail, and will have local match dollars from Bellefonte Borough, Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau (CPCVB), Clearwater Conservancy, Centre Foundation, CentreBike, Nittany Mountain Biking Association, State College Cycling, Tussey Mountain Outfitters, and the family of Michael and Alice Young.

“Outdoor recreation is a great asset for Centre County,” said CPCVB Executive Director Betsey Howell. “It brings in a lot of tourism dollars, but it is also something beneficial for our locals, so we’re happy to support it and we look forward to its completion.”

The grant came out to a little less than the $80,750 expected when the grant application was submitted earlier this year, according to Mike Bloom, county senior transportation planner. The study is expected to start next spring and finish by December 2017, but the overall project is expected to last approximately four years.

“These projects take awhile to develop, and more often than not, they’re phased implementation, so you kind of take them as you can afford them and as you can build them moving forward,” Bloom said. “Four years is still pretty optimistic.”

The multi-use trail, which would run from the Bellefonte Waterfront to Milesburg Community Park, was originally proposed by Bellefonte Mayor Tom Wilson and Bellefonte resident Jack Schuster, who are both avid bicyclists and hikers. The two have had plans for a local trail in the works for quite awhile, Wilson said in an earlier interview with The Express.

The study area for the trail will be between Route 144/155 and the SEDA-COG Railroad, following Spring Creek and the former canal, Bloom explained. It will likely include several stream crossings.

In 2018, grant applications will be submitted to both the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and PennDOT, and the following year, engineering and permitting work will begin for the trail, according to Bloom. If all goes well based on the feasibility study, the plan is to construct the trail in 2020. It might be completed by the end of that year, or the construction may run into 2021.