Inks contracts with Lee County, Danville Telecom to produce 57 miles of new fiber optic infrastructure
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – Two agreements that will help facilitate a $5 million infusion into Lee County broadband was signed on Thursday.
The Southeast Iowa Regional Economic & Port Authority finalized contracts with Lee County and Danville Telecom to provide $1.91 million in funding to 57 miles of fiber optic cabling through the county.
The move is part of a jointly-funded effort between Lee County, the state of Iowa, Danville Telecom, and SIREPA to build a fiber optic backbone up the west central part of the county to Hwy. 16, then east and south to create a “redundant loop” that will provide tier-one service to more than 120 households in the county.
Danville Telecom can also rent space on the fiber optic line for additional revenue generation.
The money from Lee County comes from the county’s allocation of America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and has already been approved by the Board of Supervisors. According to Lee County Supervisor Garry Seyb, the county has the money already and has appropriated the spend.
The additional money for the project comes from a state broadband competitive grant through the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO).
SIREPA helped facilitate the project by applying for, and securing the funding from, Lee County. The grant represents about 30% of the county’s total allocation, which was set by the county when the ARPA funds were first released.
Mike Norris, Executive Director of Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission, which serves as administrator for SIREPA, said the project specifically addresses unserved and underserved areas of the county.
“At the time we applied for the Lee County funding, there were not final rules from the Department of the Treasury, so what we applied for through the county was to serve unserved areas as determined by the OCIO, and that means areas that are documented to have lower than 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload,” Norris said.
“We used that same plan to apply to the state.”
The draws from the county will come in two phases, one for setup, engineering, and right-of-way, which would be roughly $700,000. The second phase of construction would require another draw of county funds for $1.25 million. About $37,000 of that second draw would be held by SIREPA to leverage any additional broadband incentives that could surface in the future, either federally or at the state level.
Norris said the public/private partnership that’s been ushered in for the project is viewed well by the state and shows how the PORT Authority can help facilitate projects such as this.
SIREPA Vice Chair Mike Hickey said he originally had some questions under the contract with Lee County as to how the money flowed to SIREPA and then to Danville Telecom.
“It seems, after re-reading it, that we get the money from the county by request, so when Danville says they’re ready to go, all we have to do is request the money from the county and it just comes through,” Hickey said.
Seyb said that was correct.
“We have the money now. We have a little more than $3 million already. It’s already been approved by the board and we have the funding. So the funding for this project is secure,” Seyb said.
Norris said no other port authority in the state is engaged in projects of this size and scope and it shows the real value to the port authority in economic development.
SIREPA was also integral in securing the KL Megla building for the Lee County Economic Development Group. SIREPA actually owns the building and has a lease agreement with LCEDG.
Norris thanked the county and the board of supervisors for working with SIREPA to give the project momentum.
“This has never been done before. We’re plowing new ground and we’re the only port authority in the state that has done something as substantial as this. I think that’s worth putting in the record. Some of these things aren’t easy to do, but the communication and partnerships are what has made this happen,” Norris said.
“As people learn more about port authorities, guess who they’re calling – SIREPA. We’re doing things it was intended to do. We have a great system happening and it’s evidenced in what we’re about to do with broadband.”