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Indiana County loan will help cheese plant reopen

| Thursday, May 3, 2012, 4:44 p.m.

INDIANA--A cheese manufacturing plant in Smicksburg will reopen thanks to a $50,000 loan from Indiana County.

The Indiana County Board of Commissioners approved the loan from the Indiana County Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) at the board's meeting Wednesday.

Edward and Bobbi Jo Evans, who also own P & J Cheese House, requested the loan to reopen Smicksburg Community Cheese, which has been closed since 2001. It originally opened in 1962.

Edward Evans plans to produce a variety of cheddar cheeses with milk received from the area's Amish community.

"I think this is a really good project for Indiana County with the majority of farms being Amish," he said. "They spend a lot of money in the county; they come over to Indiana all the time."

Evans said, without this plant, the Amish farmers have had problems finding an outlet for their milk.

"In the last three months we've lost five farmers," Evans said, "the reason being they went to Georgetown, N.Y., so they can find an outlet for their milk. There is no outlet here, with the closest being Middlefield, Ohio, that will receive canned milk."

Evans plans to make the plant into a tourist attraction. Viewing windows will be put in the plant that will allow people to see cheese being made every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For the first week of the month, cheese will be made Saturday instead of Friday.

"We're trying to promote tourism," Evans said. "Smicksburg tourism is there because of the Amish."

Smicksburg Community Cheese will create six new jobs, with four in the manufacturing plant and two in its retail outlet. Evans said he expects the store and plant to be open by the end of August.

The interest rate for the loan will be fixed at 4.25 percent for 42 months.

The commissioners also agreed to proceed with removal of the abutments from the former Ranson Avenue railroad bridge in Blairsville. The bridge was removed because it was deemed unsafe due to structural problems.

Commissioner Dave Frick expressed concern about what would happen to the abutments after they were removed.

"The stone work of those abutments is magnificent," Frick said. "I would hope somehow that it doesn't go in the dump."

At least 95 percent of the removal costs will be taken from state and federal funds. An August 15 Public Utility Commission hearing will determine how to remove the abutments and whether the county will have to pay for the remaining five percent of the costs.

The board also approved Homeless Assistance Program contracts which include a rental assistance program, homeless case management and a bridge housing program.

The bridge housing program is meant to help women who come from shelters like the Alice Paul House and need some help finding a place to live. The county owns a house with four different sections that women can live in.

"They are provided a place to rent for a year," said M.J. Smith from the county planning office. "They work on their job-hunting skills to get themselves to a point where they can get out into the world.

"In some cases, they're able to purchase homes and at least get an apartment independently and not go back to the situation they came from, whether it was an abusive husband or poverty, or whatever."

The commissioners also:

  • Approved a $36,000 decrease for a contract with Lumadue Excavating for a Church Street infrastructure replacement project in Indiana. The contract change will be covered by Indiana Borough's own funds.

  • Accepted a $5,698 contract increase with Mid-Atlantic Storage Systems for construction of the Penn View Water Storage Tank. The money was requested to pay for additional asphalt needed to complete the access road to the tank.

  • Revised the budget for the Emergency Shelter Program, providing an additional $11,649 for existing line items in utilities and additional purchases of equipment and furniture at the Pathway homeless shelter in Black Lick.

  • Announced the Indiana County courthouse will be closed Wednesday in observance of Independence Day.

Commissioner Patricia Evanko was absent from the meeting.

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