Commissioners authorize environmental inventory project

The Blair County Board of Commissioners Tuesday entered into an agreement that might prevent situations like that which happened with the baseball fields in Snyder Township last year.
After a single season of base hits, catches over the fence and youngsters sliding into home, the state Department of Environmental Protection intervened and told league officials at the Bald Eagle baseball fields that the land they were playing on was protected because it was a wetland. Those who built the fields didn’t know that.
But with the agreement signed Tuesday, those hoping to develop environmentally-sensitive land have the opportunity to view a document and know exactly what endangered animal or plant species thrive there or what natural resource could be disturbed.
According to Steve Putt, director of the Blair County Conservation District, the Natural Heritage Inventory, being conducted by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, will identify endangered species and “species of special concern” and the habitats of those groups.
“They identify the locations of these species from maps and documents and they will indicate ways to protect those areas and the species found in those environments,” said Putt. “It will be a public document that will be available to both municipalities and the general public. It’s going to be an important and much-used document for anyone wanting to develop land in Blair County.”
Putt said anyone considering developing an area of land in Blair County will use the document during the planning stages of development.
“Anyone considering developing an area can refer to this document and find out what is there before they invest a whole lot of money or a whole lot of time in the project if there will be a problem with endangered species or something of that sort,” said Putt. “A lot of times, a developer will buy a piece of land based on location or other criteria and not realize what may be involved in the permitting stage or on the environmental end.
“This will give a heads up for anything that’s there.”
Blair County Commissioner Donna Gority agreed with Putt.
“This makes it a lot easier to protect precious property,” said Blair County Commissioner Donna Gority. “This program will begin sometime at the beginning of the year and from what I understand, it’s going to be a lengthy process. But hopefully, when it’s finished, developers can save a lot of time and money when searching for property to build on.”
Putt said the inventory will take about two years to complete.
The entire western part of Pennsylvania is being handled by the WPS, while the eastern part is being inventoried by the Nature Conservancy. Thus far, 32 of the 67 counties have been identified, nine more are underway and should be completed soon, and two have signed on to begin in 2003.
Cambria County will also be inventoried at the same time as Blair.