Leelanau News and Events

Funding For High-Speed Internet Likely To Be A Big Piece Of Leelanau’s $4.2M ARPA Pie

By Emily Tyra | Jan. 31, 2022

Managing Leelanau’s $4.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocations is a monumental task, and the County Board of Commissioners (BOC) — as well as local government bodies, advocacy groups, and nonprofits who are seeking a part of that funding — are calling it a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity. Leelanau County constituents can tune into a BOC special session at 1pm today (Jan.31), as county leaders discuss potential ARPA funding recommendations.

County Administrator Chet Janik alerted townships that today’s ARPA conversations — specifically surrounding broadband — will be of particular interest: “We understand that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have been reaching out to various townships with proposals and requests. Townships may wish to consider delay entering into any agreements with ISPs until after the January 31st meeting with the board of commissioners.”

Meanwhile, commissioners have engaged residents’ input on ARPA since November, and will hold at least two special sessions (today’s, plus one on February 8) before any funding plan is to be finalized. (For clear-cut information on eligible and ineligible uses of ARPA funds, head here.) 

The Leelanau County Board of Commissioners received approximately 28 formal ARPA proposals, over a hundred email requests, many statements during public comments, and entertained approximately 20 presentations at Committee of the Whole meetings.

“To my knowledge, we are the only [Northern Michigan] county requesting input on ARPA funding in this manner,” says Commissioner Patricia Soutas Little. “Credit for that idea goes to Chet Janik.”

Among the entities discussing ARPA projects with commissioners: Meals on Wheels; Leelanau Christian Neighbors; Leelanau Children’s Center;  advocates representing Leelanau’s Asset-limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) families; Leelanau Mental Health Liaison, Leelanau Investing for Teens, Empire Village, Cedar/Maple City Lions Club; Glen Lake Association; Suttons Bay/Bingham District Library; Solon Township; representatives from new affordable housing initiatives; and the county health department.

And in addition to those funding requests, the Leelanau Peninsula Economic Foundation’s LIFT (Leelanau Internet Futures Team) committee — working with Commissioners Ty Wessell, Patricia Soutas Little, and Melinda Lautner, plus a consultant from DCS Technology Design — spent the last several months addressing the broadband and cellular coverage gaps and needs throughout the county.

Janik shares that in cooperation with LIFT — comprised of members countywide representing schools, libraries, local government, county government (emergency service and IT), the Grand Traverse Band, businesses, agri-business, Connect Nation, and Leelanau residents — approximately $45,000 of ARPA funds have already been allocated to do a feasibility/mapping study of current internet options.

The now-complete Rural Broadband Inventory Survey identified existing internet and cellular service, parcel by parcel, throughout the county.   

Notes Matt Ansorge, the county director of emergency management/9-1-1, and a member of the LIFT, “It would be very beneficial for every citizen of Leelanau County to check out the survey. Many people may not even be aware of the service that is provided in their area and they could be suffering with substandard broadband access.”

Still, shares Wessell, “The number one takeaway of our consultant’s analysis is the magnitude of unserved and under-served parcels in our County — over 5000.”  

With 1028 unserved parcels, Leelanau Township has the greatest number (20 percent) of all unserved parcels in the county. Kasson Township has the second highest number of unserved parcels (776).

At today’s meeting, Chris Scharrer of DCS Technology Design will be presenting a “Broadband Expansion Proposal.” Recommendations will likely focus on rapid deployment of fixed wireless service on existing and newly constructed county-owned telecommunication towers. Moreover, says Wessell, today’s presentation will “demonstrate to (ISPs) the county is committed to use ARPA Funds to incentivize and support rapid installation of fiber throughout the county.”

Also up for consideration: an additional tower to be used for both expanded Wi-Fi coverage in unserved areas and to ensure that all county residents have access to cellular and emergency cellphone coverage, and use of ARPA funds to incentivize capital investment by ISP and “middle mile” providers.    

Soutas Little, who chairs the LIFT committee, says “we were able to determine which ISPs could potentially expand their service to the unserved areas to meet our short-term goal of having broadband coverage with a speed of 35 Mbps down and 5 up as a minimum for the majority of the townships.” She adds that the goal “is to have the ‘majority’ of parcels [covered] by the end of 2022. Some parcels are difficult to reach and may require more time,” adding that “the long term goal is provision of fiber to the home.”

Wessell tells the Leelanau Ticker the request for investing in expanded delivery of broadband services for county residents, farms, and businesses “will be for a significant portion, but not all, of the ARPA dollars currently available."

Right now, Ansorge says, the county is waiting for responses to an RFP to see if there are feasible options to construct a new tower at the Government Center. He notes that the BOC “have yet to determine where they will pull funds to pay for the new tower. It would be applicable for ARPA funding, but they could decide to allocate money elsewhere to other projects.”

Soutas Little shares, “I believe my colleagues on the BOC all feel that allocating ARPA funds to support ... construction of several new towers is a good use of public dollars that can benefit the majority of our county."

Meanwhile, commissioners also heard last week from the Community Development Coalition of Northwest Michigan — a group of leaders from Leelanau and neighboring counties, representing environmental, social, and economic organizations which are working together to utilize resources available from the American Rescue Plan Act. “Together, we created and maintain a scorecard to track progress on the toughest issues facing our region,” a letter to the commissioners states.

“Our ask to you, is that you please consider allocating ARPA resources towards endeavors that advance metrics on our shared scorecard — specifically: improved access to housing; improved youth mental health and well-being through social-emotional learning and child safety; increased school readiness; improved arts and culture resources and experiences.”

Wessell notes, “I know that there is consensus among the commissioners to use a significant portion for broadband and still have monies left for some of the other requests.”

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