The Tyler County Commission approved possible steps toward broadband expansion at its meeting on Sept. 10.
Rusty Ervin of Stratus Wave informed the commission that the West Virginia Broadband Deployment Council, with support of Governor Tomblin and the goals of the state, have put aside grant money which companies can apply for in order to serve "unserved" areas in the state.
"An unserved area is an area where there is no terrestrial access to broadband internet, so you can only get internet access via satellite providers," explained Ervin. "We have applied for and have received grants for six areas in the state already, from Hancock County to Wetzel County. As we were looking at the next round of grants, we decided that we would like to apply for at least one more area, if not two. Both of those areas are close to each other in Tyler County."
He said the tower the county recently constructed just northwest of Alma lies within an unserved area.
"The reason that the state is providing this grant money is because they recognize that it is not economically feasible for a company to deploy their own assets into these areas," he said, further explaining his presence at the meeting.
"We did not want to file an application without at least some nod or approval from you (the commission) to say go ahead."
Ervin then asked for a signed letter of support from the county commission. The County Clerk's Office drafted the letter and Commission President John Stender signed it prior to the end of the meeting.
If Stratus Wave receives the grants, the company will contact Sheriff Bob Kendle in order to proceed with the plans. Ervin said Stratus Wave would have an insurance policy on the tower and that it should not interfere with the tower's current 911 operations.
"I don't see a problem with it if it helps the county," said Stender.
"If there are other locations in Tyler County that the commission has access to, we would also like to review those areas to determine whether or not they can also assist us in providing services into these unserved areas," offered Ervin.
Stratus Wave, a competitive local exchange carrier headquartered in Wheeling, W.Va., offers telephone service and broadband internet service.
During his report, Sheriff Kendle submitted a request to extend Chris Brown's employment at the Sheriff's Office. Although Brown was initially hired for summer help, Sheriff Kendle described his work as excellent and stated that he would like him to continue working there; the commission approved the extension.
Confusion arose regarding a $4,644 installation fee for a support agreement with CSSI. Deciding to first determine CSSI's new billing process, which the commission indicated was different from past installation fees, they tabled the payment of those fees to be revisited at the next meeting to be held Sept. 19.
Stender reported, following a call from AT&T, that antenna "juicers" on the company's towers may soon upgrade and extend cell phone service in Tyler County.
He also noted that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was requesting their presence at a meeting in Canaan Valley. While the commissioners expressed no interest in attending, they agreed to make sure that members of the Tyler County Solid Waste Authority were aware in the event that they would like to attend.
At the request of Brooke Fletcher, field representative for Congressman David McKinley, First District of West Virginia, Stender reported he visited Wirt County Courthouse and would be going there again to explain Tyler County's cooperation with the oil and gas companies, as well as the digitization of record books. He said Tyler County offices would help to advise Wirt County in any way possible.
Commissioner Charles Smith described a review which the courthouse received from an assessing team hired by the Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority (CFIA).
While describing compliance issues in the report, he stated that they were already aware of many of the problems and looking into options to resolve them. Prosecuting Attorney Luke Furbee said he would like to also review the report.
"Some of these compliance issues are not an option," said Furbee. "They've been put off for a really long time. Everything comes to fruition, and one of these days, whether we like it or not, something will have to be done."
Furbee suggested that it may eventually come to a levy.
"We've applied for these grants for four years running and we've gotten nothing," said Stender, who was against the idea of imposing a levy.
In related news, Tim Meeks of the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council was present with a grant application to be sent to the CFIA. Having been denied the grant for three years, this application will mark the fourth year Tyler County has applied for funding to repair the courtroom. Commission determined to have Meeks review the application before submitting it.
Under public comments, Arnold Templeton was present to address concerns he had about damages and hazards created near and on his property by oil and gas activity.
"Something has got to be done," he said. "I bought our home and a small farm on Pleasant Ridge Road in 1972. On August 8, Triad Hunter had our asphalt road grounded to dust, added dry cement and added limestone."
He said this was disrupting their lives, jeopardizing their health with hazardous dust, and lowering their property values.
"They destroyed my driveway entrances, my survey markers, trespassed with marker stakes in my field without permission," he said.
Templeton went on to discuss the noise and vibrations from Jake brakes, concerns that sludge ponds and "mosquito pits" may seep into their groundwater and streams, and the structural damage being done to the county by out-of-state companies, which he feels disregarded citizens who pay taxes.
"I expect action to stop health hazardous dust from the road," he told the commission. "That dust and dirt does affect our breathing and everything else."
He proposed a banning of motor brakes or some measure to cut noise, as well as a tax on oil and gas leaving the county to fund county repairs.
Furbee explained the only the West Virginia Legislature would have the authority to impose a severance tax.
"We'll see what we can find out," said Stender.
The commission will try to discover who allowed Triad Hunter to change the structure of the road and determine when the company plans on returning the road to its prior condition; they will also work with Furbee to draft letters to Triad Hunter, the DEP, and Department of Highways.
Other approved items included the clerk's fiduciary report, the assessor's exonerations, and the paying of bills. Rather than Tuesday, Sept. 24, the next Tyler County Commission meeting will be held on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 9 a.m.