Sevastopol Seeking New Broadband Partner

Ties severed with Bug Tussel

The Town of Sevastopol headed back to the drawing board to find an internet service provider (ISP) to partner with to help the town deliver fiber broadband access to all residents and businesses. 

The town had selected Bug Tussel in March following a lengthy request for proposal (RFP) process that drew several responses from ISPs. The town selected the broadband wireless and fiber-optic service provider and subsidiary of Hilbert Communications partly because it offered the most cost-effective approach among the ISPs that responded to the town’s RFP. 

That approach had Bug Tussel burying fiber to all Sevastopol addresses using 30-year conduit bonds to finance the estimated $6.2 million project. The company had already used that model in partnering with five Wisconsin counties (Fond du Lac, Marathon, Waushara, Calumet and Jackson) to issue bonds in 2021, and seven counties (Jefferson, Iowa, Taylor, Oconto, Rock, Green Lake and Wood) in 2022. 

The approach had never been used with a single town, however, and Mitchell Olson, chief development officer and general counsel for Bug Tussel, told the Peninsula Pulse in March that the company was banking on bringing other municipalities on board to achieve the economies of scale it desired.

“We group them together whenever possible, so we are engaged with a couple other [Door County] municipalities,” Olson told the Pulse in March.

Sevastopol Town Board chair Dan Woelfel gave numerous reasons during the town’s June 19 board meeting for why the town was severing the partnership. Primary among those was Bug Tussel’s inability to gather those other Door County partners. After that, the company grew unresponsive, Woelfel said, and cost estimates increased; the grant the company had sought was not awarded; and it no longer appeared feasible to bond-finance the project for one town, versus the multiple-county approach.

Woelfel said it appeared to him that the company had grown too big, too fast before having the infrastructure in place.

“Frankly, our last conference call with them was a disaster,” he said.

The town officially terminated the partnership and is preparing to reissue its RFP next week. 

“Obviously, we are tremendously disappointed in this,” Woelfel said, but are “going to go back at it.”

Jeanne Vogel, town board supervisor and chair of Sevastopol’s Communication and Technology Committee, said they would gain from their experience, having already gone through the RFP process.

“My goal is, of course, for this community to have high-speed, reliable internet,” she said. “I will do my best with the committee to do that and put a plan in front of this board that we can say yes to. So we begin our work again.”

The town’s Communication and Technology Committee met on Wednesday, June 21, after the deadline for this issue of the Peninsula Pulse, to review and prepare to reissue a new RFP.

STR Public Hearing Scheduled

The town board also scheduled during its June 19 meeting a public hearing on a short-term-rental (STR) property on Glidden Drive that has been operating without a town permit since the town’s ordinance was adopted in July 2021.

The town has written emails that show the couple began to apply for the town license in 2022 but never followed through. According to records from the Door County Tourism Zone Commission – the property did have that permit – the property also didn’t have the required Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection license and was listing the property for a maximum of 10 people, when the private onsite wastewater treatment system allowed a maximum of eight people.

The couple, Dan and Tricia Forter, have lived in Canada for the past four and a half years, but they attended the June 19 meeting, when Woelfel allowed them to briefly address the board.

Dan Forter said they had stopped their mail from being forwarded to their Canadian address after about six months of leaving their Glidden Drive residence.

“By the time we caught up with this, the ordinance was approved and things had been in play for a while,” he said. 

They had hired a local property manager and rented the house for “three or four seasons,” he said, but they have now discontinued renting the property and would not need a permit moving forward.

“It benefits the community more than us,” he said. “We just wanted it to be lived in and maintained – that was all.” 

He said it would be “owner occupied” going forward and would remain empty unless they were there. 

“We had no intent to violate ordinances,” he said. “It was not our wish or desire to circumvent your rules.” 

The public hearing on the matter is scheduled for June 29, 6 pm.

In January, the town arrived at a settlement agreement with a different STR owner on Glidden Drive that included a $15,000 fine for overoccupancy. 

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