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Nobles County Board supports rural broadband initiative with $4 million after grant falls through

“We’re dumbfounded,” said Mark Loosbrock, secretary/treasurer of Lismore Cooperative Telephone Company, which spearheaded the project. “They had maps that our engineers, that nobody had. That’s why that money got denied.”

Stock image of fiber by Compare Fibre on Unsplash.
Stock image of fiber by Compare Fibre on Unsplash.<br/>
Compare Fibre / Unsplash<br/>
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WORTHINGTON — The Nobles County Board of Commissioners boosted the local “Fiber to Home” broadband effort by reaffirming its $2 million commitment and kicking in another $2 million after a grant application for USDA funding was denied.

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“We’re dumbfounded,” said Mark Loosbrock, secretary/treasurer of Lismore Cooperative Telephone Company, which spearheaded the project. “They had maps that our engineers, that nobody had. That’s why that money got denied.”

Loosbrock explained that in applying for the grant, engineers and consultants used maps to assess the area already served by broadband, and given that information had believed they would be given a high number of points on the grant’s scoring rubric. However, those assessing the application had maps not available to the co-op’s engineers, Loosbrock said.

However, the co-op was told it could apply for a grant in the next round of funding — which has a November deadline, driving co-op representatives to return to the county board to ask for direction and potentially, enough local matching funding to reapply for the grant.

Other complicating factors included an increase in costs for the project due to inflation and supply shortages, and that the co-op was told it might have a better chance applying for a grant to pay for 50% of the project rather than the 75% funding it had requested in its application.

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Commissioner Gene Metz recused himself from the discussion due to his involvement with the Lismore Cooperative Telephone Company, and Commissioner Donald Linssen was absent, leaving just three commissioners to vote on the issue, with its rapidly-approaching deadline.

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In the end, commissioners reaffirmed their prior commitment of $2 million, once again contingent on the grant being accepted, and then voted to put $1 million of its federal American Rescue Plan Act money to the project.

Following those board actions, Commissioner Justin Ahlers proposed directing $250,000 of the county’s wind energy production money per year for four years toward the project — after calling Metz back to the commission to answer a few questions about the wind production funds. Metz said he anticipated better wind energy production gains this year, and then returned to his place in the audience.

Ahlers’ motion passed 3-0.

County Administrator Bruce Heitkamp praised the broadband initiative for its economic development potential, and Ahlers emphasized how important it is for education.

In other news, the board:

  • Decided the county will pay for the 6% increase in health insurance costs for its employees, as well as pay for an additional 4% of the cost of single plans and 6% of the cost for all other plans, in order to attract and retain its workforce.
  • Recognized Geralda Pedersen, child support officer, for 35 years of service, and Dan Bosman, jail administrator, for 20 years of service.
  • Honored Chris Dybevick, chief deputy sheriff, with the county's September Excellence in Performance Award.
  • Renewed the medical examiner contract with River Valley Forensic Services
  • Authorized Sheriff Ryan Kruger to apply for a USPCA grant to replace K9 officer Boris, who is believed to be 7 years old and is reaching the end of his career as a working dog.
  • Authorized Public Health to hire either public health nurses or registered nurses depending on the qualifications of candidates, as both have begun applying for the open positions.
  • Approved the purchase of a tilt trailer for the Parks Department.
  • Approved a new decommissioning plan for Zephyr Wind's 15-tower wind farm in Larkin and Summit Lake townships, as the company is repowering the towers to increase capacity. 
  • Approved the replacement of windows in the Nobles Public Works Building for $7,764.41 by Clair Van Grouw Construction. The other contractor, Woodbury Construction, bid $8,051.
  • Accepted a quote of $21,220 from Beltline concrete for walkway and curb improvements at the front entrance of Prairie Justice Center.
  • Approved the purchase of a Dalco carpet cleaner for $16,480.79.
  • Continues to work on the budget and the levy, which currently sits at an approximately 6% increase from last year's levy.
  • Reappointed Shelley Sweetman and Gary Schimbeno to the Red Rock Rural Water System Board for new 4-year terms.
  • Reappointed Earl De Wilde, Randy Kraus and Peter Petersen to the Lincoln Pipestone Rural Water System for new 4-year terms.
A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

Email: klucin@dglobe.com
Phone: (507) 376-7319
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