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January 11, 2013

Marcellus impact: Cambria authority receives $150,000 housing grant

EBENSBURG — While Cambria County has just a handful of Marcellus Shale natural gas wells, it will benefit from the host fees being paid by oil and gas companies to the state.

The Cambria County Redevelopment Authority is receiving a $150,000 grant from the state to meet housing needs as a result of the drilling activity.

Larry Custer, executive director of the redevelopment authority, used the frack water treatment facility under construction at a former Bethlehem Steel Corp. property as the basis for the application to Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

“This is some good news,” Custer said in announcing the grant.

The funds will be used to rehabilitate houses that have been acquired by the redevelopment authority through sheriff’s sales and what Custer termed “a variety of other ways.”

Four of the homes are in the city of Johnstown and two each are in Dale and Lorain boroughs.

The state’s Marcellus Shale impact fee is providing millions of dollars to the state for use in more than a dozen areas as spelled out in the enabling legislation passed last year.

One of the categories is housing, a need that arises when drilling operations move into a region. The influx of workers often results in skyrocketing rentals.

While no housing shortage has been reported in Cambria County due to the shale gas industry, the potential exists because of the frack water plant and future drilling, Custer said.

In its application, the authority requested $300,000 to meet housing needs. It was awarded half that amount.

But the door has been left open for additional money to Cambria County if other areas are unable to accept full grants, Custer said.

The grant must be matched with authority funds, and Custer had to be able to show ownership of the homes, he said.

County Commissioner Doug Lengenfelder said only half the counties in the state that host Marcellus gas operations received the housing money.

“Larry put together one heck of a package,” he said.

Not only will the grant provide safe housing for eight families, it will serve as an ongoing benefit through rental payments for years to come, money that will be put toward other housing rehabilitation, Custer said.

The Marcellus impact fee money is funding 25 housing projects across the state with $7.5 million being distributed to the 19 counties that submitted successful applications, according to information provided by the housing finance agency.

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