Yesterday Hunting Hills in Dilliner hosted the annual Greene County Envirothon, in which students from each of the county’s school districts competed in soils, forestry, wildlife and aquatics competitions.
The agency behind this event, and $750,000 in annual grants for the county, is the Greene County Conservation District, managed by Lisa Snider.
“The money we get should be put on the ground in Greene County,” Snider said. “So we are putting it back in the soil for healthy soil and healthy crops.”
Snider said the district has three grant programs: the Dirt, Gravel and Low Volume Road program, the GRACE program and a mini grant program, which allocated $550,000, $224,000 and $15,000, respectively, in 2018 for conservation related improvements.
The Dirt, Gravel and Low Volume Road program, established in 1997, pulls in half a million dollars a year from state-wide programs to maintain the county’s roads. Snider said these programs include Section 9106 of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code, Pennsylvania Act 89 of 2013 and the Pennsylvania Transportation Funding Bill.
Snider said the amount of funding is based on the number of project sites on township roads. The conservation district conducts visual surveys on roads and ranks them based on state quality standards. Most of the funding is in valleys and near streams, which add sediment to the street and cause environmental and safety issues. Snider said the conservation district is currently working on 33 road projects across the county.
Formed in 2017, the GRACE program, short for Greene County’s Reinvestment in Agriculture: Cost-Share Enhancement, is a program in which farmers can apply for funding to complete projects like pasture fencing, fertilizer, water development, forestry and lime. Last year, Snider said, the conservation district allocated $224,000 in grants to 39 farmers, who completed 85 projects, in 15 out of the county’s 26 municipalities.
“We are the only conservation district in the state doing this,” she said of GRACE. “The reason we can do this, we are county-funded for our positions, salaries and utilities. That frees up funds other county’s use for administration.”
Each fiscal year, July to June, Greene County receives Act 13 funding from the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (PADEP) and the State Conservation Commission (SCC), to administer conservation district programs and cover the conservation district staff salaries, utilities and benefits, Snider said. In Fiscal Year 2018 the district received $243,000 from PADEP and SCC. After covering all the salaries and utilities, the county was left with around $40,000, which went toward the GRACE program.
“Whatever money we can get from the PUC and the SCC, our conservation district generally matches what the state gives us, we match it dollar for dollar from our general fund,” Snider said. “That (money we match) comes from the permitting for oil and gas well projects (and) stream wetland projects.”
Also, as part of the Act 13, the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission (PUC) distributes funds to every county in Pennsylvania, based on a 5-year well count average. Snider said in Fiscal Year 2018, PUC allocated $58,000 to Greene County, which went toward GRACE.
“We offset the cost a good deal,” Snider said, noting farmers are only responsible for any additional costs not covered by the GRACE grants.
Snider said the conservation district is accepting GRACE program applications until Aug. 31. Contracts are written every September and void the following July. So farmers have from September to July to complete their projects.
“I believe they are happy we are doing it, because it’s a little bit of help no one else is doing,” Snider said, noting the lack of federal funding available to the area. “It’s nice to get out and help people.”
The district’s mini grant program funds five projects a year, which must relate to water conservation. The funding for this program comes from the districts permitting fund, comprised of fees residents pay for permits to cross streams and wetlands and conduct work.
Snider said these projects are usually smaller, such as stream bank stabilization or small storm water issues like water runoff from roads. Each year, the district allocates up to $5,000 per project with a max of $25,000. Last year, she said, the district allocated $15,000 to projects. This year it has has already $15,000 allocated.
“(We) generally work with townships to allocate that money,” she said.
The Greene County Conservation District has six employees, including Snider. It formed in 1956, as a result of residents petitioning the commissioners to develop it, Snider said. The district’s board members, appointed by commissioners, serve 4-year terms. Associate directors sit on board as well and are anyone from township supervisors to veterinarians.
“We try to get a good cross section,” Snider said of her team.
According to a proclamation from the commissioners, who, on May 3, proclaimed May 5-11 as Conservation District Week, “Conservation Districts are local units of government established under state law to carry out natural resource management programs, and they work with landowners and local governments to help them manage and protect land and water resources on private and public lands.”
For more information on Greene County’s Conservation District, or to apply for any of its grant programs, contact the district office at 724-852-5278.