U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) and U.S. Representative Roger Marshall, M.D. (KS-01) recently sought answers from the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works regarding a project that would help bring high-speed broadband service to the Hillsboro community which has been negatively impacted by the Army Corps of Engineers’ non-recreational out grant policy.
The City of Hillsboro recently collaborated with TCT, a Council Grove-based telecommunications company, on a fiber optic project that would route the cable across Army Corps land at Marion Lake and would require permission from the Corps. However, TCT recently had to change the route of the cable to avoid Army Corps-owned land due to requirements within the out grant policy that would have caused significant delays and added expenses to the critical broadband project.
“Social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic have caused an increased reliance on distance healthcare, learning, and employment, including in rural communities,” wrote Sen. Moran and Rep. Marshall. “Projects to increase availability and quality of broadband for rural areas across the country are critical to keep these populations connected and economically viable.”
To help clarify the Corps’ current policy and prevent delays to future projects, Sen. Moran and Rep. Marshall asked the following questions:
1) What specific considerations are undertaken when the Army Corps decides whether there is a “viable alternative” to a proposed project? Is increased cost to the applicant considered? If not, please explain.
2) Are there certain categories of projects, including those that have economic development impacts for the surrounding communities, which receive special treatment in these considerations? If not, please explain.
3)In determining how a proposed project would provide a “direct benefit to the government,” how does the Army Corps consider and develop such requests of the applicant?
4)When determining the impact and necessity of an environmental assessment to be conducted by an applicant, is the size and scope of the project considered? Are smaller projects with a less potential environmental impacts required to complete a less intensive environmental assessment?
5)Please give a general and complete timeline of the Army Corps’ application process for a non-recreational out grant application, from first contact with an applicant to final approval, with time estimates.
The letter closed with the men reminding the Assistant Secretary:
“The importance of rural telecommunications infrastructure cannot be overstated during the COVID-19 pandemic. This project would provide critical high speed broadband access not just to Hillsboro, but also the other rural communities that would be served by this fiber optic loop, and delays to similar projects should be avoided. Thank you for urgently clarifying the Army Corps’ policy regarding non-recreational out grant applications.”