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August 29, 2019

‘We have to connect federal, state and local,’ Rep. Trone says

Credit: The Garrett County Republican, Renee Shreve

OAKLAND — Sixth District Congressman David Trone met with the Garrett County commissioners Friday morning to “listen and learn” about ways the federal government can assist local officials.

“I talk about this every time: We have to connect federal, state and local,” Trone said during breakfast at Cornish Café in downtown Oakland. “All three branches serve the same customer.”

He indicated that local residents and businesses, such as the café, have to be able to thrive, be successful, grow and create the “American dream.”

“That’s what we’re here for,” Trone told the commissioners. “So, we’re looking for things we can do to help you and your efforts in Garrett.”

Commissioner Paul Edwards said two things come to mind: broadband and infrastructure.

“The internet is a huge deal,” the commissioner said. “We keep pumping money into Garrett County for rural broadband expansion, but the problem is we’re just getting broadband.”

He noted that urban and suburban areas of the country will soon be going to 5G, while some local residents still have no internet access.

“Most of Garrett County that’s easy or moderately easy to get internet has it,” Edwards said. “It’s the areas that are very, very difficult to get to — that cost exorbitant amounts of money to get to one, two or three customers — is where we’re at now for the most part. That’s going to take some coordinated efforts. It’s going to take federal funding, as well as state funding. We certainly can’t do that on our own.”

“Broadband is the key to economic development,” he said, noting the benefits of rural residents being able to work at home for companies located in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and other areas. “We’ve got to get that done.”

The congressman indicated that a bipartisan group of lawmakers is currently working on a “couple” of bills.

“Broadband — it’s not just business,” Commissioner Jim Hinebaugh said. “It’s a quality-of-life thing now — education, information, health, all those things.”

In addition to broadband, Edwards said water and wastewater infrastructure is also important to brick-and-mortar businesses both in and outside of industrial parks.

“We’ve got to have access to [public] water and sewer, which a lot of Garrett County does not have,” the commissioner said, “and that takes a lot of federal money.”

Hinebaugh stressed the importance of the federal government maintaining/reauthorizing the Appalachian Regional Commission.

ARC is an economic development agency established by Congress in 1965. Numerous projects in 13 Appalachian states have benefited from ARC funding over the years.

“Hopefully, there’s enough benefit to the states that it won’t be eliminated or reduced,” Hinebaugh said about ARC. “I was the economic director for the county for 17 years, and a lot of things that we were able to accomplish were directly related to ARC, plus Community Development Block Grants, the U.S. Economic Development Administration and other things.”

In metropolitan areas, there are commercial interests that do projects on a speculative basis, such as construct a building for a business, the commissioner said.

He and Edwards also asked for Trone’s assistance in moving the U.S. 219 North project forward.

“It’s under construction, and everything is going great,” Edwards said about work on the Maryland side. “Obviously, the big holdup now is Pennsylvania and getting Pennsylvania [U.S. 219] from Meyersdale to Grantsville.”

About five miles need to be completed in Pennsylvania, he noted. Maryland won’t be able to complete its last mile until Pennsylvania determines exactly where U.S. 219 will be located at the state line.

“We’ve got to find a way,” Edwards told Trone. “Pennsylvania, at this point, has no political calculus to finish that road without some kind of major influx of federal money or big push.”

Trone asked the commissioners to send him maps and an executive summary of the project. He indicated he would then meet with Pennsylvania Congressman John Joyce and talk about the issues.

Trone noted that he, Joyce, Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia and others plan to discuss the idea of developing a bipartisan tri-state economic development council.

“This is exactly where this fits in,” Trone said about the U.S. 219 North project.