Cambria County Commissioners (from left) Tom Chernisky, B.J. Smith and Scott Hunt

Cambria County Commissioners (from left) Tom Chernisky, B.J. Smith and Scott Hunt

ST. MICHAEL – The Cambria County Board of Commissioners voted on Wednesday evening to approve an agreement with the state that clears the way for the county to officially receive more than $11 million in pandemic relief funding.

The COVID-19 County Relief Block Grant Agreement with the state Department of Community and Economic Development is in the amount of $11,757,491. The source of the money is the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed into law in March.

President Commissioner Tom Chernisky said after Wednesday’s regular meeting of the Board of Commissioners that he and his fellow county leaders are still working to figure out on exactly how the money will be spent and, to that end, are consulting with the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. He said that the county has until the end of the year to spend the money.

“Nothing’s set in stone,” he said.

State Rep. Frank Burns, D-East Taylor Township, said when the funding was earmarked that it must be spent on small business assistance, programs to support local economic development entities for costs related to the emergency, assistance to municipalities for costs related to the emergency, behavioral health and drug and alcohol abuse treatment services, nonprofit assistance programs, broadband internet deployment or offsetting costs of direct county emergency response, including personal protection equipment.

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, Tracy Selak, administrator of Cambria County’s Behavioral Health, Intellectual Disabilities and Early Intervention (BH/ID/EI) program, gave an update on her department’s operations and the county’s participation in the Human Services Block Grant program. She said that the county provided the same level of human services in the most recent fiscal year as it had in years past.

Wednesday’s meeting was held at the 1889 Clubhouse on Main Street in St. Michael, the former clubhouse of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, whose members caused the 1889 Johnstown Flood. The Board of Commissioners most often meets at the Cambria County Courthouse in Ebensburg, but holds several meetings each year at other locations around the county.

“When the commissioners meet out in the community,” Chernisky said, “it brings attention to that site, brings attention to the community, and allows people from other parts of the county to come to a meeting. It’s not just always in Ebensburg at the courthouse.”

Doug Bosley, chief of interpretation and visitor services for Johnstown Flood National Memorial, which has owned the old clubhouse since 2006, gave updates during the meeting on several ongoing projects at the memorial, including the renovation of the clubhouse, the stabilization of the dilapidated St. Michael cottage once owned by club member Jesse Lippincott and the clearing of trees and brush from part of the former bed of Lake Conemaugh.

The memorial’s visitor center reopened on Friday, Bosley said; it had been closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mark Pesto is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkPesto.

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