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Local Communities, DC Broadband Scramble to Get Grant Requests In

A 190-foot fixed wireless broadband tower will be erected in Randy Halstead’s former cow pasture by the end of the year.

“I was willing to do anything to get better broadband in Jacksonport,” said the chair of Jacksonport’s Town Board.  

Door County Broadband (DCB) is constructing the tower on Halstead’s County V property, located halfway between Jacksonport and West Jacksonport. The line-of-sight, guyed tower has the potential to reach 437 year-round residents in 194 households and an additional 677 seasonal residents, according to Jessica Hatch, DCB operations manager.

“The 190 sites are the core and backbone of the network,” Hatch said. “They’re going to give us the big coverage.”

The project had to happen quickly to be eligible for the CARES Act funding Gov. Tony Evers made available in September that would fund 12 broadband projects statewide totaling $5.3 million. Two of those were in Door County: $106,931 for the tower on Halstead’s property, and another $188,665 for two towers within the Town of Egg Harbor. One of those will be near Carlsville off Highway 42, or what Hatch referred to as “the black hole.” The other will be a replacement tower near County I. Between the two, an additional 402 full-time residents, 106 households, 529 seasonal residents and 22 businesses will have service. 

The CARES Act funding came during a time when the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin is also accepting applications for a second round of $24 million through the state’s broadband expansion grant program. That application period will close Dec. 1, and the funds are expected to be awarded in the spring.

It’s difficult to know exactly how many applications may be submitted from Door County when communities tend to tackle their broadband challenges individually or in small groups. Two that are known about DCB will have two applications requesting grant dollars. One is with the Town of Liberty Grove for two towers: one in Gills Rock, the second at the Liberty Grove Town Hall.

The other application is a new partnership among the towns of Egg Harbor, Jacksonport and Sevastopol. 

“It’s a lot of people working together really hard to try to make this happen,” said Jeanne Vogel, Sevastopol Town Board supervisor.

The project would include five towers. Sevastopol would locate two of them on town property, one in Valmy, one on the south end of Clark Lake. A third tower would be located in northwest Jacksonport. The remaining two would be constructed in the Town of Egg Harbor: one on the northwest side, the other near County E.

Each tower is expected to cost about $100,000. If the grant were received, it would cover 50 percent. The municipalities would cover the remainder at a 50-50 split with DCB. 

Both the towns of Sevastopol and Jacksonport have earmarked $75,000 in their 2021 budgets in anticipation of being funded. That money is expected to be a high estimate. The project originally included seven towers with the potential to serve some 2,400 residents. That number will be reduced now with two of the towers no longer being feasible.

One of those was on private land south of Town Line Road. When the landowners backed out, it was disheartening for Vogel, who’s been trying to find locations for towers.

“If I can help my community by giving up an acre of land for a guyed tower that would benefit three communities, I’d do it in a flash,” she said.

Another tower that had been sited for Jacksonport’s Schauer Park was also removed from the project. The town learned there was a deed restriction prohibiting any use for the land except a park. The Southeast Jacksonport Neighborhood Association, whose geographic area encompasses Schauer Park, also opposed the site. 

David Crawford, president of the association, sent a letter to the town on behalf of the residents to pose nearly 20 questions about all aspects of the project. He was concerned the town wasn’t researching all broadband options before spending taxpayer money. 

“The number one issue: None of us think our tax dollars should go to line-of-sight [broadband technology],” Crawford said in an interview. “And everybody agrees Schauer Park is not a good place to put it.”

Only one person among the dozen participating in Jacksonport’s Zoom meeting last week didn’t find the location objectionable. 

“No matter how we get there, we need better broadband service,” said Darrel Birnschein. “I have no problem with it going in Schauer Park if it will service me.”

2020 Door County Awardees

The state’s broadband expansion grants for fiscal 2020 included three Door County projects: 

• $188,044 for Charter to build a cable internet service along South Lake Michigan Drive within the Town of Sturgeon Bay. The project will build past 114 residences.

• $65,282 for Door County Broadband to erect a fixed wireless broadband tower within Nasewaupee. The project will equip the new tower and an existing silo with wireless antennas. The service will reach 50 businesses and 1,008 residences. 

• $48,960 for Nsight Teleservices to connect existing fiber service to equipment on poles within downtown Egg Harbor. This will enable the village to provide free Wi-Fi service to residents, seasonal residents, tourists and boaters. 

Source: Public Service Commission of Wisconsin Broadband Office