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by LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — The Dunn County Facilities Committee has recommended the county board approve an easement for 24-7 Telcom to bring fiber optic in through the Russian Slough and under the Red Cedar River.
The actual easement would not be drafted and filed until 24-7 Telcom is ready to bring in fiber through the Russian Slough and to bore under the Red Cedar River, said Nick Lange, Dunn County corporation counsel, at the May 24 facilities committee meeting.
Lange said he would draft a resolution for the Dunn County Board to consider at the June 21 meeting that would approve the easement in principle so the easement paperwork could be drafted and filed when 24-7 Telcom has the other easements across the river in place.
Bringing fiber optic cable through the Russian Slough and under the Red Cedar River would bring broadband Internet service from 24-7 Telcom to the northern part of the Town of Tainter, said Brad Schmidtknecht, an engineer with 24-7 Telcom.
Permission for an easement through Dunn County’s property at the Russian Slough would be preliminary because 24-7 Telcom must still obtain easements from private landowners on the other side of the Red Cedar River, he said.
The Russian Slough is the best spot to bore under the Red Cedar River, Schmidtknecht said.
The fiber optic cable would follow the road into the Russian Slough, and then would bore under the river for a distance of 1,350 feet, he said.
The cable will have 288 fibers, will provide broadband to residents in the area and will bring it to a cabinet to feed the northern part of the Town of Tainter, Schmidtknecht said.
24-7 Telcom would ask for warning signs along the road and the trail so there would be no digging in the area, and a vault would be installed where the cable begins to go under the river, he said.
The cable would be buried a minimum of 36 inches deep. Disturbed soil would be seeded in with grass seed, or if there is a particular requirement for seeding by the county, the county’s preference would be seeded in, Schmidtknecht said.
Why an easement?
Tim Lienau, county board supervisor from Menomonie and a member of the facilities committee, asked about the necessity for an easement.
An easement would allow 24-7 Telcom to go in and make repairs if necessary, Schmidtknecht said.
The route on the map provided to the facilities committee is the shortest path possible to get under the river. 24-7 Telcom representatives are talking to the other landowners across the river right now, he said, noting that so far, there has not been “a ton of interest” from landowners to grant easements for the fiber optic cable to bring broadband Internet to the other side of the river.
The other option would be to go across the county Highway D bridge, but the highway commissioner is not in favor of attaching the fiber optic cable to the bridge, and 24-7 Telcom would prefer not to bring the fiber optic over the bridge because it is expensive, Schmidtknecht said.
The third option is to go the long way around by the road, he said.
Lienau asked about any permits that would be required by the state Department of Natural Resources.
The next step will be for the engineering company to check with the DNR, but in the past, if it has been a directional bore, the DNR has not required any permits, Schmidtknecht said.
Lienau asked how the fiber optic cable would be brought under the river.
After the boring is done, a duct will be installed that is three feet under the river. The company that does the boring can guide the tunnel boring machine with high precision from a boat in the river with a depth finder so the duct will have proper placement, Schmidtknecht said.
Lienau asked how long it would take to bore under the river.
The actual time it will take would not be known until crews try to start boring. A successful bore could take from a few days to a few weeks, depending on whether they run into rock under the river, Schmidtknecht said.
If the boring company should run into rock they cannot get through, then 24-7 Telcom would abandon that route, he said.
Don Kuether, county board supervisor from Menomonie and a member of the facilities committee, noted that the route shown on the map was not directly across the river.
The land on the other side of the Red Cedar River is privately owned, and the direction the fiber optic cable would go as indicated on the map is the only landowner who has been willing to talk to 24-7 Telcom right now, Schmidtknecht said.
Directly across would be best, but that’s what is available now, he said.
Michael Rogers, county board supervisor from Menomonie and chair of the facilities committee, asked if the fiber optic cable would be bored under the silt at the bottom of the river.
The fiber optic cable would be three feet under the river bed itself, Schmidtknecht said.
Contractors for 24-7 Telcom have bored under the Chippewa River at Caryville, under the Red Cedar River in Menomonie near the Red Cedar trail, and under the river at Irvington, he said, noting that the Irvington bore ran into rock.
“It’s nothing these contractors have not done before. They’ve been doing it for years. They are well equipped to do it,” he said.
Ron Score, county board supervisor from Boyceville and a member of the facilities committee, noted that burying the fiber optic cable probably runs into more obstacles in town than what would be encountered going through the Russian Slough and under the river.
Ann Vogl, county board supervisor from Menomonie and a member of the facilities committee, asked if an environmental assessment would be needed.
The DNR has not required an environmental assessment for other bores, but 24-7 Telcom will check again for this particular project, Schmidtknecht said.
Rogers asked if Scott Nabbefeld, Dunn County facilities director, had any concerns about the proposal.
Nabbefeld said he had no concerns.
The Russian Slough Park is basically a gravel road down to the river and some backwaters. Fiber optic cable along the road is not going to be disruptive to anyone accessing the river. There is no green space, and the road goes to the tree line, he said.
The fiber optic cable will be on one side of the road or the other and not down the middle of the road, Schmidtknecht noted.
Rogers said he assumed that people who are waiting for fiber optic Internet connection would be excited for the opportunity represented by going through the Russian Slough and under the Red Cedar River.
Installation of fiber optic in the Town of Tainter is one of the grant projects for bringing broadband to the rural areas of the county, Schmidtknecht said.
In 2022, 24-7 Telcom was awarded eight grants through the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, which administered American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds distributed to the state, to bring broadband to rural Dunn County.
Some of the townships in Dunn County have devoted part of their own ARPA funds — if not all of the funds — toward the grant projects for bringing in fiber optic.
The fiber optic projects are only partially funded with grant money, with the remaining costs covered by the Internet service providers.
In 2022, Wisconsin awarded $99.9 million in ARPA grants for 83 broadband projects requiring matching funds of $101.9 million.
According to information available from the PSC, the eight grant projects in Dunn County for 24-7 Telcom amounted to $9.15 million and required $9.15 million in matching funds.
247-Telcom’s ARPA grant projects are in the Towns of Elk Mound ($1.4 million), Lucas ($857,635), Menomonie ($1.07 million), Red Cedar ($1.48 million), Spring Brook ($794,935), Stanton ($1.51 million), and Weston ($616,285).
The 24-7 Telcom grant projects in Dunn County will bring fiber optic Internet to more than 2,200 residences and 117 businesses, according to the PSC.
If the grant funding and the matching funds are combined and divided equally by the total number of residences and businesses, that amounts to nearly $8,000 to bring fiber optic to each separate location.
The Russian Slough and boring under the Red Cedar River is the best option to bring broadband to northern Tainter “if the landowners on the other side will help us out,” Schmidtknecht said.
If the committee recommends approval of the easement, and the county board approves of the principle of an easement, “that has value,” in terms of working with other private landowners, Lange said.
24-7 Telcom can report to the landowners across the river that the company has permission to come under the river, he said.
For 24-7 Telcom, just knowing that the Dunn County Board will allow an easement is enough for now, and the actual easement paperwork can be done when the work is ready to proceed, Schmidtknecht said.
The easement will not detract from the public use of the river or the Russian Slough Park, Lange said.
When 24-7 Telcom “has all the T-s crossed and I-s dotted,” then 24-7 Telcom can come to Dunn County for the actual easement, he said.
Schmidtknecht said he would have concerns if the paperwork on the easement was done now, “but then all the ducks don’t line up.”
If 24-7 Telcom has to abandon this route, then the company will not need the easement, he said.
Score asked if 24-7 Telcom could install the fiber optic cable on telephone poles.
Some companies do install fiber optic cable on telephone poles, but 24-7 Telcom does not have the equipment to maintain fiber optic on poles, and the fiber optic would then be susceptible to the weather, Schmidtknecht said.
“One hundred percent of what we do is underground,” he said.
The Dunn County Facilities Committee unanimously approved a motion recommending that the Dunn County Board approve a resolution granting permission for an easement for 24-7 Telcom to install fiber optic cable through the Russian Slough Park and under the Red Cedar River, with the easement to be drafted and filed when it is needed.