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‘Feels good to have it done’

December 24, 2019 by Brian Jopek

After nearly a year of meetings and work sessions used to educate and gather information, a broadband grant application for the town of Boulder Junction has been submitted to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (WPSC).

The chairman for the town’s Economic Development Connect Communities Committee (EDCCC), Dennis Aukstik, told the town board at its Dec. 17 meeting the application, through efforts of the committee’s broadband work group in cooperation with CenturyLink, would be filed the next day. 

On Dec. 19, he confirmed for The Lakeland Times the application filing did indeed take place. 

At the town board meeting, Aukstik said the 2020 broadband expansion grant application covers phase one of a two-year “fiber to the premises” project which he said will bring high speed internet to approximately 745 residences in Boulder Junction. 

“The application included more than 100 letters of support of this transformative project,” he said. “The letters were received from our community’s churches, elementary and high schools, Marshfield Clinic Health System and Howard Young Medical Center, local business owners and employees, full time and seasonal residents, our local service organizations and visitors.”

Aukstik said the application also includes information related to the town receiving monetary donations and pledges in support of the broadband expansion project. 

The dollar figure for phase one is nearly $4 million; on the application, the town of Boulder Junction has pledged $1.4 million of that amount if it’s ultimately approved.

CenturyLink’s share would be almost $635,000 and the grant application is asking for nearly $1.9 million from the WPSC.

“The town’s portion for year one is slightly less than 50% of what the town’s total commitment was,” Aukstik said, referring to a figure of $3.8 million that had originally been considered as the town’s portion. 

“We feel that we have prepared the best grant application possible,” he said and added thanks to people on the EDCCC and that committee’s broadband work group for their efforts “to bring affordable, reliable high speed internet to our town.”

“We will continue to keep the community and the town board informed regarding the progress of the grant application and the project,” Aukstik said. 

The deadline to have the grant application submitted was Dec. 19 at 4 p.m.

Aukstik said people might be asking why Dec. 18 was the date chosen to submit the grant application. 

“It was a big deal putting this project together,” he said. “A humongous application. Bill was the yeoman on this. He’s uploaded his stuff to CenturyLink back and forth five times at least.”

Aukstik was referring to Boulder Junction resident Bill Niemuth, a member of the EDCCC’s broadband work group.

In July, Niemuth introduced himself at a town board meeting as recently retired from Kimberly Clark, where he’d been a director of global security and a resident of Boulder Junction for four years. 

“I’m now running a consultancy out of Boulder Junction and getting more and more involved,” he said then. 

Aukstik told the town board last week he feels the broadband expansion application Niemuth assembled “is the template for the state of Wisconsin now.”

“We probably should have copyrighted it if it isn’t copyrighted already,” he joked. “My fear is somebody’s gonna come and steal Bill away.”

“Feels good to have it done,” town supervisor Jim Galloway said. 

The town’s process

On Thursday, Dec. 19, Boulder Junction town clerk/treasurer Dan Driscoll said if the broadband grant application is approved, the town’s portion of the funding for phase one of the project in 2020 — the $1.4 million — will be handled through bonding. 

He said initial discussions for that bonding have taken place with representatives of the Baird Financial Corporation, the firm that handled the bonding for the town’s recent, two year, multi-million dollar road improvement program. 

“Talking about the process and the beginning the process and whether it’s going to be taxable or non-taxable,” he said. “Because CenturyLink will actually own everything. Private so it will be taxable.”

Driscoll said broadband expansion work group member Steve Coon said the town should know by sometime in the February time frame whether or not the grant’s been approved. 

“After that, we would get all the funds in order and hopefully, be able to begin (the project) by June,” Driscoll said. 

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]

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