RBC broadband project update

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RBC | An afternoon work session regarding Rio Blanco County’s Broadband Project was held in Rangely at 1 p.m. on Monday, March 18 after the regular commissioners’ meeting.

The work session began with commissioners Rector and Moyer expressing their concerns about Communications Department Director Cody Crooks’ ability to follow through on project details, which they implied, have stalled the broadband project. Crooks acknowledged their concerns and ensured that he would comply with their wishes.

The timeline for the broadband project is to have all wireless portable towers up and functioning by November 2019.

Crooks said there are three approved Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites where towers could be placed immediately, weather permitting, but several properties are still waiting for a Land ARC study from BLM.  Road and Bridge Director Dave Morlan expressed concerns about the BLM access roads. It was decided that each site needs to be visited so that the county knows whether or not existing two track roads need improvement to be functional. The Bureau of Land Management will be contacted when problems with access roads arise.

County Surveyor Leif Joy said he believes each tower pad is 20 feet by 20 feet, but the access road lengths vary per site. Moyer asked Joy for a ballpark on all the access roads and tower pads so the road and bridge department can start making plans (since this project is set to take place during the busy road construction and maintenance season) and provide estimated prices. It is expected that the prep work to set up the sites for each tower should cost approximately $5,000 per site.

According to Rector—attending by phone—Stewart Welding in Rangely will be able to save the county money on the bases/skid plates on which the towers will be placed. An approximate $2,500 in savings per tower was reported. County Attorney Todd Starr and paralegal Vicky Edwards will write a purchase agreement letter to Stewart Welding to proceed with the tower bases/skids.

Crooks said, “The 45g tower costs are $3,000 for the 20 foot and $3,500 for the 40 foot with all the hardware.” The price for the planned towers, solar battery, equipment on each tower and skids would be $722,000.  This amount is for six 40 foot towers and 11 20 foot towers. Rio Blanco County Fleet Manager David Overton priced generators at approximately $4,920 each. At this time it is unknown how many generators will be needed because generators are not necessary for each site.

Attorney Todd Starr, attending by phone, reported that landowners who would be affected by easements have requested individual reimbursements. The board discussed the possibility of paying land owners royalties based on the number of residences serviced by each portable tower. After much deliberation the concern with providing royalties to the landowners is that if every available address (approximately 1,400 addresses) was on the county fiber internet (including fiber drop and wireless), Crooks estimates that the county could possibly recoup $900,000 per year. But that includes all broadband access, not just wireless, and that money will go to the maintenance of the towers and reimbursing the county for their initial investment. According to Crooks the repayment could take 18 years. Another deterrent are the county resources required in the tedious task of tracking services provided by each tower and paying royalties based on fluctuating numbers.  It was decided that a letter would be drafted to the concerned landowners by Starr and Edwards.

The next work session meeting concerning the Rio Blanco County Broadband Project will be held Monday, March 25 in Meeker at 2 p.m.

By Roxie Fromang | Special to the Herald Times