The Letcher Fiscal Court has officially adopted an ordinance creating a broadband commission to establish and administer high-speed Internet service in Letcher County.
The court voted unanimously to approve the second reading of the ordinance at its November meeting. Judge/Executive Jim Ward will appoint seven board members to be approved by the court to staggered terms.
The board will be responsible for developing broadband service as part of the KentuckyWired Project sponsored by Fifth District US Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers and then-Gov. Steve Beshear, and has been referred to as the “Silicon Holler Project.” The project’s aim is to create opportunities for industry, merchants, and entrepreneurs in rural Kentucky to compete with companies in urban areas, and make it possible for startups to locate in rural areas.
Initial funding for the project will pay for the “Middle Mile” — the portion of the infrastructure between Internet connection points and service lines. Local Internet providers will be given the opportunity to bid for the “last mile,” of the connections, and that is where the possibil ity of failure exists. In some rural areas, such as Letcher County, local Internet service providers have refused to extend high-speed service to very rural areas because the cost of running the lines outweighs the profit. However, there will be incentives in the program to ensure that the providers make high-speed services available to everyone.
The KentuckyWired middle-mile network will be built through a publicprivate partnership with the Macquarie Group, an investment banking firm headquartered in Sydney, Australia. Kentucky will own the system, but Macquarie will operate it for 30 years. The network will include more than 3,000 miles of fiber optic cable and more than 1,000 government and postsecondary education sites. Local Internet providers will connect to that “middle mile” at government and college connectivity points. Preparation work has already begun at nearly 100 government, university, and community college sites in eastern and northern Kentucky.
The East Kentucky Network LLC (EKN), a Pike County corporation made up of Peoples Rural Telephone Company, Thacker and Grigsby Telephone Company Inc., Mountain Telecommunications Co. Inc., Gearheart Communications Company and Cellular Services Inc., will build the broadband network in north/central and eastern Kentucky. The EKN partnership covers 21 counties in eastern Kentucky and will tie into the Cincinnati Bell main trunk line from northern Kentucky. The Cincinnati Bell partnership is one of two key gateway — along with Louisville — to the worldwide web.
EKN will build approximately 305 miles of fiber optic cable in its service areas. The construction will cover a part or all of Lawrence, Elliott, Morgan, Menifee, Wolfe, Powell, Estill, Lee, Breathitt, Magoffin, Johnson, Martin, Floyd, Pike, Knott, Perry, Owsley, Jackson, Clay, Leslie, and Letcher counties, and the towns of Louisa, Sandy Hook, West Liberty, Frenchburg, Stanton, Irvine, Beattyville, Campton, Salyersville, Paintsville, Inez, Pikeville, Prestonsburg, Whitesburg, Hindman, Booneville, Hazard, Manchester, McKee and Hyden.
In other business, David Narramore, chairman of the Letcher County Tourism Commission, reported that the tourism board had decided not to pursue independence from the court in its financial matters. Narramore said the issue of paying for an annual audit had been the deciding factor, since in the current economic situation it may be more than the commission can afford. Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming addressed the issue, saying that he wasn’t certain it was a good idea anyway. Fleming said the court is responsible for all county finances and is required to maintain oversight. Narramore said that paying for the audit had been a “deal breaker” for the commission and that it will continue with the current arrangement, with the commission treasurer turning over bills and financial reports to the judge’s office for payment and approval.
Narramore also reported that the commission has hired Rita Robinette of Forsite Consulting to conduct a study to assess the county’s potential and readiness for cultural heritage tourism and to begin the planning process for sustainable tourism development. The study will center on the economic and community development benefits of existing and potential resources and make recommendations to enhance visitor experiences. Narramore also asked that local citizens and community leaders visit the ExploreLetcherCountyKY. com website and take a survey which he said will help target specific groups for tourism.
Magistrate Fleming asked citizens to visit the Letcher County planning website, WhyLetcherCounty.org, which he said is established to promote the county. WhyLetcherCounty.org features information that will be important to business and industry that may consider locating there as well as to tourists and other potential visitors. It includes demographic information, information about tourism opportunities, historical sites, and links to Letcher County government bodies and other agencies. It has several videos about activities in the county and gives an overview of the county’s unique geography and the three major rivers which have their headwaters in the county.
The court unanimously approved the reading of resolution in honor of Deborah K. Hogg, who died in October after a long illness. Hogg was a member of the tourism commission, and the court voted unanimously to appoint her sister-in-law Sandra Day Hogg to fill her seat on the commission. The court also presented a certificate of appreciation and copy of the resolution to members of Hogg’s family who attended the meeting. Hogg’s service to the county spanned her lifetime, during her career as a professional as well as in her many volunteer activities. She served as a nurse in the nursery at Harlan Appalachian Regional Hospital, and taught nursing at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College for 20 years. Hogg worked to help acquire a labor and delivery room at the Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital, which is named in her honor. She served on numerous boards in the medical field as well as in community service
Also at the November 21 meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Derek Barto asked that the court re-bid the soft drink contract for the Letcher County Recreation Center because the original bid had not been exact about the period the bid winner would support activity at the center. Second District Magistrate Terry Adams asked if any progress had been made in getting playground equipment repaired and Barto said the equipment, which is under a lifetime warranty, should be taken care of by the end of the month. County Attorney Jamie Hatton said he had sent a certified letter to the equipment company and he will send another to ensure that the matter is resolved.
In other county business, the court:
• voted unanimously to appoint Michael Watts to the Letcher County Library Board of Trustees.
• voted unanimously to add the following names to the Blackey Veterans Memorial Board on the Main Street Loop at Blackey, Private First Class Eugene Whitaker, United States Army Infantry, and Corporal Michael S. Dunn, United States Marine Corps.