Legislative Days

A strong history of unified representation in Madison gets results

by Tom Strong, Operations Manager, Door County Economic Development Corporation (DCEDC)

2019 Legislative Days delegates in the Assembly chamber. Submitted.

As a relatively new member of Team DCEDC, I’ve been consistently impressed with the corporation’s work, including collaborative efforts with other organizations that have similar missions. The Door/Kewaunee County Legislative Days event is no exception.  

In this article, I’m calling attention to one of the issues that our 2019 Legislative Days delegates presented in Madison earlier this year: state funding for rural broadband expansion. It would be a mistake, though, to celebrate the 2019 event and continuing broadband-expansion efforts without honoring how Legislative Days came to be. Here’s a look at their origins:

The idea of creating a group to go to Madison to represent the interests of our residents with a collective voice dates back to 2001. Through a review of how other communities were sending groups to the capital (and the capitol), a survey and a few brainstorming sessions, the group quickly became a reality. A steering committee was formed that included Bill Chaudoir, Rob Burke and Mark Nelson in leading roles. The timing was excellent because several key infrastructure projects needed unified-voice advocacy in Madison.

Two infrastructure projects were the focus of the 2003 Legislative Days. The state Department of Transportation (DOT) had already approved funding to improve Highway 57 to a four-lane divided highway, but that funding was facing possible delays and redirection to other state projects.

The first delegate trip to Madison – on April 30, 2003 – emphasized the importance of the Highway 57 project. Later in 2003, a DOT representative told the Legislative Days committee that the funding would not be diverted, and construction proceeded as planned. On October 6, 2008, an opening ceremony celebrated the project’s success and honored all those who were involved, including the 2003 Legislative Days delegates.  

The second infrastructure project was a request to fund maintenance on the Michigan Street Bridge and construct a new bridge between Maple and Oregon streets. The delegates met with legislators and DOT representatives to convey the need for these projects, and the state officials affirmed their commitment to both the repairs and the funding for what eventually became the Oregon Street bridge.

Today, every time I drive on Highway 57 or cross either Sturgeon Bay business-district bridge, I’m thankful to the steering committee and the 2003 Legislative Days delegates. Their efforts had a direct impact on both of these projects.  

Fast forward to 2019, when a different kind of infrastructure was the focus of the ninth year of the biennial Legislative Days event. With Mark Nelson and Rob Burke leading the steering committee, we sent more than 100 delegates to Madison on April 3-4 to present six issues – including the need for funding to expand broadband service to rural areas – to all 99 Assembly members.

As a first-timer, I was impressed by the civil and productive nature of the conversations among our delegates and the Assembly representatives from both parties. 

The 2020-21 state budget includes $48 million total for projects to expand broadband service into rural areas. The initial $24 million grant round is the largest in state history and is greater than all seven previous grant rounds put together.

“Wisconsin lags behind the national average when it comes to getting our people access to broadband internet,” said Gov. Evers. “This investment demonstrates our strong commitment to connecting the underserved areas of our state.”

“This round of grants represents a huge step forward toward the goal of making sure we’re all connected,” said Lt. Gov. Barnes.

On Sept. 4, Gov. Evers announced that the first $24 million dollars is available, with applications being accepted through Dec. 19, 2019. The Public Service Commission will evaluate the grant requests, with awards given early in 2020.

DCEDC, working with its technology subcommittee, NWTC and local stakeholders, wants to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to expand internet access through this grant program. We’ll be supporting proposed projects, partially grant funded, in Liberty Grove, Jacksonport, Washington Island, Nasewaupee, Egg Harbor (Town and Village) and potentially other municipalities. Municipalities that operate under the county’s internet-tower rules were a major focus of the grant applications. 

The window to apply for the second half of the budgeted $48 million will open in 2020. As we continue to facilitate current projects and support the first round of grant requests, we’ll also be gearing up for the next round. Virtually all of Door County qualifies for projects under this program, so look for many more proposals to be submitted next year.

We thank all the steering committees and delegates who have represented us in Madison over the years, the current technology committee for identifying the areas that greatly need improved internet service, and the service providers who are willing to invest in these projects to improve our county’s broadband infrastructure.

To learn about being a delegate in 2021, email me at [email protected]

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