By Carol Vaughn —
The Accomack County Board of Supervisors authorized County Administrator Mike Mason to develop a memorandum of understanding with the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority to expand broadband services.
Projects in this phase total more than $865,500 and will be paid for through funds derived from the federal CARES Act.
Miriam Riggs and Karen Downing submitted written comments asking for more public input on broadband expansion and expressing concerns about affordability and the lack of broadband in some areas.
Downing said in an informal poll she took via her Facebook page more than 145 respondents said “that internet service is a necessity.”
The board in September approved using up to $1.1 million of CARES Act funding for broadband expansion.
Around $98,000 has been spent to date to install public Wi-Fi hotspots in areas with high densities of public school students, mainly in impoverished areas, according to Mason.
Seven areas have received hotspots and two more are in being completed.
The second expansion phase, as approved Wednesday by the board, includes five components and will serve nearly 1,500 households.
Robert Bridgham, ESVBA executive director, called the projects “another big step to try to help the community.”
The first component is to spend $200,874 to allow communities that previously applied to the broadband authority’s micro-communities program but failed to qualify for assistance to get service.
The money would serve as matching funds, allowing 10 communities to get broadband. The authority previously deemed it too expensive to extend fiber to those communities, which include 102 homes.
Additionally, the fiber would pass by 301 more homes.
The communities include Big Road, Bogues Bay Drive, Creek Bluff, Dix Farm Road, Doe Crossing, Evergreen Lane, Locust Grove 2, Ox Hearth-Bethel Church, Hillsborough, and Metompkin View.
A second component is to spend $537,391 to construct fiber along 16 strategic road sections, totaling 41.7 miles.
The segments were determined using “several different data sets,” including county data about public school students, community college data, and business and financial data, Bridgham said.
The segments include Bayside Road from Deep Creek to Lee Mont; Chincoteague Road; Coal Kiln Road; Daugherty Road; Dogwood Drive; Greta Road; Haksneck Road; Matthews Road; Nandua Shores; Nelsonia Road; North Metompkin; Red Hill Road/Seaside; Redwood Road; Shell Bridge Road; Upshurs Neck Road; and Wisharts Point Road.
Thirdly, $50,000 would be used to help low- and moderate-income residents offset installation costs.
Fourth, $52,266 would be used for the Red Bank community, which was included as a target community in a regional application for a state grant, should the application be denied.
Lastly, $25,000 will be used to pay part of the preliminary engineering design cost for broadband in Captains Cove. The engineering, which will cost an estimated $75,000, is a prerequisite to applying for a 2022 state grant to bring high-speed internet to around 1,000 households in the community.
Mason said it could cost $1 million or more to install fiber-to-the-home broadband in Captains Cove.
Money for the projects was freed up as result of the county’s plan to reimburse itself for payroll costs for public service employees, as allowed under CARES Act guidelines.
2022 Budget Goes to Public Hearing
The board voted to schedule a public hearing for the fiscal year 2022 budget, after members agreed the version Mason presented on Feb. 8 did not need changes.
The budget does not include any new taxes or fees.
“The budget this year is what it is and we just don’t have room to do anything else but what has been presented,” said Chairman Ron Wolff.
Discussions about potential new revenue sources, including a meals tax and a cigarette tax, likely will continue separately and could result in a budget amendment later.