Lake County Board changes course, fronts $500K in fiber project
The Lake County Board of Commissioners voted last week to pay $500,000 out of its own coffers over the next two weeks to contractors building the county-owned fiber-optic network while they wait for payment from the federal agency funding the pro...
The Lake County Board of Commissioners voted last week to pay $500,000 out of its own coffers over the next two weeks to contractors building the county-owned fiber-optic network while they wait for payment from the federal agency funding the project.
Commissioners last month first discussed the request for money from Rohl Networks, the main contractor building the network. The county has been waiting almost two months for about $6 million requested from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, causing the county to become past due on bills from contractors.
RUS is funding the $66 million fiber-optic telecommunications network in Lake County and some parts of St. Louis County through a series of loans and grants. The county-owned network and service provider is called Lake Connections.
County Administrator Matt Huddleston said the county typically submits financial requirement statements, or FRS, to RUS, and the federal agency usually processes the request for money within 20 days. One FRS was filed more than 50 days ago and RUS still hasn’t paid the county. A second, more recent FRS also has been delayed.
Commissioners were concerned the subsequent late payments to contractors would slow the project, which already has faced many delays since construction began in June 2012. According to the original agreement with RUS, the project is to be finished by September 2015.
In a move to ensure the project will be completed on time, county and Lake Connections officials announced last month that they will bury all remaining cables in the project instead of stringing them on utility poles. Contractors had been hanging some fiber-optic cables on utility poles, but questions about pole ownership and other pole issues caused delays.
Commissioner Rick Goutermont said he was hopeful after speaking to RUS officials on a conference call last week that RUS would approve the new plan, the project would move forward and RUS would reimburse the $500,000 quickly.
“If we make some kind of movement in the form of some gap financing ... to keep the boots on the ground out there working on it, I believe that would send a stronger message to RUS of our commitment and that we want to move forward,” Goutermont said.
The commissioners passed the motion for gap financing, with Commissioner Jeremy Hurd dissenting.
“The commissioners are committed to the project and want to see this project completed and on time,” Commissioner Rich Sve said.
Sve said the money will come from the general fund.