Environmental Program Likely Will Be Casualty of Budget Crisis

Washington PA  Observer Reporter
21 February 2011
By Linda Metz, Staff writer

Washington County is being hit with a double whammy when it comes to the environment.

Not only is the county having to deal with old and new evironmental problems, but now it's also not getting state funding to correct them, said Commissioner Larry Maggi.

"We're really going to feel the effects," he said.

Maggi, along with Commissioners Diana Irey Vaughan and Bracken Burns, this week joined in an effort to get the state Legislature to renew a program that has provided funding to counties for economic growth and a cleaner environment since 1999.

The initial Growing Greener program, an environmental initiative, was signed into law by Gov. Tom Ridge Dec. 15, 1999.

The initial five-year, $240 million program was reauthorized and expanded to provide more money for local environmental projects. In 2005, Gov. Ed Rendell invested $625 million in Growing Greener II to address the state's most pressing environmental problems, spark new growth in core communities and create new opportunities for citizens.

The Growing Greener program was to stay in place through 2012, to be funded through a combination of bonds, which have been exhausted, and the Environmental Stewardship Fund, which comes from a $4-per-ton municipal waste disposal fee.

However, because of the prolonged recession and the state's financial difficulties, the Growing Greener program has been discontinued and looks unlikely that it will be revived, said state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil.

"It's the first of an avalanche of cuts to come," White said Friday. Gov. Tom Corbett has pledged to balance the state's budget without tax increases, and cuts in many programs are anticipated.

Washington County commissioners approved the resolution, sponsored by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, urging the Legislature to renew the program. Greene County commissioners have not yet taken any action on the resolution.

Since its inception, the Growing Greener program has definitely benefited Washington County, according to Lisa Cessna, the county's planning director.

Cessna said such funding was made available for numerous projects, including restoration of the Starpointe Lake dam and trail; construction of a 1-mile trail to the Henry Bridge and to replace grills and playground equipment in Mingo Creek County Park; and construction of the Elrama sewer project in Union Township.

In fact, the county received millions of dollars in funding through the Growing Greener program over the years and $1.39 million from Growing Greener II alone.

The program was designed to slash the backlog of farmland preservation projects statewide; protect open space; eliminate the maintenance backlog in state parks; clean up abandoned mines and restore watersheds; provide funds for recreational trails and local parks; help communities address land use; and provide new and upgraded water and sewer systems.