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Commissioners Discuss Broadband Development, Adams Industries' Project Grants

SIDNEY--The Cheyenne County Commissioners met Tuesday morning, January 16, a meeting that was rescheduled from Monday due to the Martin Luther King holiday. There was a full agenda at the meeting that included Planning, Fair Board and Visitor Committee appointments, rural Broadband Internet access plans, a discussion on battling weed infestation and use of American Rescue Plan funds.

The commissioners approved the reappointment of Planning Commission members Bill Sydow, Pat Dorwart and Walter Narjes, and also approved the reappointment of Fair Board president Troy Kurz. They also amended the terms of Visitor Committee members Brooke DeNovellis and Marva Ellwanger from three years to four years.

Sidney Public Library Director Amanda Eastin and Heather Rohm addressed the commissioners about the necessity of a new Bookmobile. The current Bookmobile, a 1994 International school bus that had been converted to be used as a Bookmobile, has had numerous mechanical issues due to age, and has been unavailable for use for many months. A new Bookmobile, specifically made to be used as a Bookmobile and not conversion project, would cost about $395,000. With additional modifications including being wrapped with an appropriate design and delivery costs, the library estimates the vehicle will have a total cost of nearly $500,000. The new Bookmobile would have a movable ramp for better access to the interior and many other features. Eastin and Rohm have already started writing up grant proposals to various organizations, government entities and private corporations such as BNSF and Union Pacific for funding. Commissioner Miller asked about the usage of the Bookmobile over the past few years and Eastin said that over the past year, circulation was up by 4,000 units, and last year alone the Bookmobile increased circulation by almost 1,000 units alone. All the commissioners agreed that the Bookmobile was as asset to the county and community, and wanted to help get a new one for the library. However, the amount needed was beyond what they could budget, and they would not be able to change any budgetary items until next year's budget. Eastin said they have already received some grant and donation money and are continuing to search for and apply for grants. She also noted that the Bookmobile would take about a year to be delivered once ordered. Chairman Johnson told Eastin to keep the commissioners informed about their progress, and that they would help in any way possible to raise money and secure grants.

Payton Springer and Emma Bertrand next addressed the commissioners, seeking to have Fairgrounds and Table and Chair Fees waived for the FFA's Annual Banquet at the Cheyenne County Fairgrounds on April 27. The commissioners noted the value of the FFA program, and unanimously voted to waive the fees for the group.

Mindy Wiegand then addressed the commissioners concerning the approval of a Special Designated Liquor License for the Pheasants Forever annual banquet to be held at the Cheyenne County Fairgrounds on March 1. The event is successful every year, and this year they are planning on 450-500 people attending the event. The commissioners unanimously approved the request.

Next the commissioners spoke with Ebony Cooksey of Nextlink, concerning Broadband development in Cheyenne County. Cooksey was scheduled to appear via Zoom call from Houston, TX, but an internet outage in the Cheyenne County area, due to the sub-zero temperatures, made it necessary for Cooksey to address the commissioners via phone. The phone was placed on speaker and put up to the conference room microphone so all in attendance could clearly hear Cooksey. She then detailed how Nextlink had secured the rights to bring Broadband internet access to rural areas like in Cheyenne County. RDOF (Rural Digital Opportunity Fund) Grants target rural areas where high speed internet access is nonexistent or subpar based on the FCC's standard of 25/3 mbps download/upload speeds. RDOF has provided nearly one million dollars for Nextlink to provide wireless broadband access to rural customers on the outskirts of Sidney. Although Nextlink's services were also able to be used in Sidney proper, Cooksey said, "Nextlink is not looking to compete with other providers like Allo," in their effort to serve rural customers, but costumers interested in Nextlink's service who live in Sidney would be able to access the service. Nextlink's Sidney project is currently one of five proposed rural projects, and the others are in rural areas such as Garden County, Morrill County and Gage County. In all cases, Cooksey said it is the goal of Nextlink to exceed minimum speeds established by Nebraska standards. As the project moves forward, Cooksey was asking for the commissioners to support their efforts by added their signatures of approval to letters being written by Nextlink as the seek more grants to expand service into rural areas in Cheyenne County and around the region. The commissioners unanimously approved the request.

Cris Burks, Cheyenne County Weed Superintendent, addressed the commissioners to consider approval the the Weed Superintendent's Annual Report. She said that local farmers did a great job combatting noxious weed infestation, and although after a season of drought followed by a season of high moisture caused a high amount of infestation, it was handled well by the Weed Control department and local farmers. Burke also brought up the possibility of using "Method" to control noxious weeds, which Deuel County uses and has success with the product and "Telar", another product that has been shown to have great effect controlling noxious weeds. Although the cost would increase, the results would be worth the additional cost. The commissioners took the information under advisement and approved the annual report.

Next, Kim Matthews, Business Development Director at Adams Industries, addressed the commissioners concerning the public/private partnership and securing more funding to complete infrastructure projects. The projects would add paved shoulders on CR 17A to handle increased traffic due to the growth of Adams Industries, the former Cabela's Distribution Center complex, and the upcoming Sentinel Project. There is also a project to replace the 82 year-old water and sewer system that services the old Sioux Army Ordnance Depot and another project that would add another 10 miles of railway to handle the increased volume fo the large-scale fertilizer facility, as well as other capital projects. Adams estimates another 50 employees will be hired over the next five years due to business growth. Matthews explained the need for multiple grant applications for seemingly the same project as multiple sources will be used to fund such comprehensive endeavors. Matthews expects to hear very soon about the amount being granted from the INFRA program, and then grant requests from the RAISE and CRISI applications. Although none of the funding is coming directly from Cheyenne County taxpayers, the County Commissioners are used as a pass-though to disburse and oversee the funds. Commissioner Sanders noted, "We need to get this clarified so people know what's going with these projects, and that their taxes are not being raised." The commissioners asked Matthews to return for subsequent meetings to keep the appraised of the status of grant request and the actual amounts approved.

The commissioners also approved a Sign Lease agreement between Cheyenne County and Larry McCaslin for $200 per year for a Tourism sign on property west of Potter, and Cheyenne County Highway Superintendent Doug Hart gave an update on road activities. he said snow removal and road treatments during the current snowstorm and cold temperatures have gone well with few incidents, and his crew had installed additional snow fencing in the Lodgepole area. The commissioners also asked about Hydraulic Studies concerning proposed culvert work, and expressed some frustration that they had not been completed yet, and apparently have been delayed because of not determining which size culverts will be used to estimate water flow. Commissioner Miller noted that the results of Hydraulic Study should determine the size of the culvert, not the other way around. He asked Hart to follow up on the studies and move forward as quickly as possible. Miller also asked about the proposed new Sheriff's Department Evidence Building being built on Highway Department Property, and if an area of the property could be cleared and fenced in to accommodate the Evidence Building. The commissioners also noted that Sheriff Frerichs is still looking at other areas for the new Evidence Building.

The next commissioner's meeting is scheduled for Monday, February 5 at 8 a.m.


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