Port Authority to request full ARPA broadband spend from county

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

LEE COUNTY – The Southeast Iowa Regional and Economic Port Authority, or SIREPA, will be requesting close to $2 million in county funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The amount is the full 30% of the funds a county committee has preliminarily allocated to broadband improvements in the county.

Lee County has already received $3.25 million in ARPA funds and has the money in an interest bearing account until the County Board of Supervisors allocates the funding.

A committee was assigned by the board of supervisors to look into the federal guidance surrounding the use of the money, in an effort to avoid any possible paybacks of funds used inappropriately.

A second $3.25 million payment is expected in May 2022.

SIREPA Administrator Mike Norris told the port authority board Friday that they should request the full allocation to help offset other cost considerations and administrative costs of about $38,000.

“The reason being we’re probably going to have some cost considerations we don’t know about yet, and they’re will be administration costs with the SIREPA staff to make sure we’re doing everything we should be doing,” Norris said.

The funds will be used as matching funds to help secure a broadband infrastructure grant from the State of Iowa Office of the Chief Information Officer, under the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Program.

The total funding package would then be accessed by Danville Telecom to build a fiberoptic backbone up the west central side of Lee County from Keokuk to Hwy. 16, to serve Tier 1 customers in the area who don’t have reliable Internet service.

Last month Danville Telecom CEO Tim Fencl unveiled a $5.5 million plan to build the fiber optics broadband network that would target the most underserved rural areas of the county.

Norris said there is some competition for the money, but two other proposals are for wireless broadband expansion and not fiber optics based service. Those plans also include increased service for Tier 2 and Tier 3 customers. The grants from OCIO focus on Tier 1 service projects, so Norris said the SIREPA request would be given priority over the other applications.

“The only information I was allowed to look at was the OCIO grant requests and we’re the only fixed service grant applied for in Lee County. The other two are wireless,” Norris said.

Danville Telecom has already received $3.3 million in grant funding from the state and federal funds to increase broadband coverage to about 51 square miles in Des Moines and east Henry counties. Those funds came through earlier Notice of Financial Availability through the Empower Rural Iowa program.

In other action, the board approved authorizing chairwoman Denise Boyer to sign a lease agreement with Lee County Economic Development Group for use of the former KL Megla building. The lease itself was on the agenda for approval, but several board members wanted the language cleaned up regarding subletting the building’s space. The vote allows Boyer to sign the lease after the language has been cleaned up.

The lease is good for three years with a possibility of a one-year extension.

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