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Falcon may get internet, Nubbin Hill project can finally begin

By Staff, 05/12/21 10:19 AM

PRESCOTT – Residents in the Falcon area may soon be getting internet access.

Buster Bradley, with Walnut Hill Telephone, said this company could provide broadband for Falcon by using COVID-19 funds. More specifically, using money available in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This was done at the May meeting of the Nevada County Quorum Court Tuesday evening.

According to Bradley, $1.6 million can be used for this, adding the company is already in Lafayette County and is licensed in Lafayette, Hempstead and Nevada counties and has towers in Stamps and Bradley. Walnut Hill, he continued, would provide 5G service.

A 180-foot tower could be built in Falcon to provide wireless internet to customers in the area. Overall, he said, there are 458 addresses in the region with expectations being 20 percent, or 91, would sign up. This would cost customers $120 a month for wireless access, with 100 meg down and 20 up, with Walnut Hill providing all the equipment. He told the court it would take the company 11 years to pay off the cost of the infrastructure for wireless service in the region, with the lions share of the cost being the installation of fiber optic lines.

Regina Irazarry, a Falcon resident, said other options for internet are nonexistent in the area, except for satellite, which doesn’t work in bad weather and only one person at a time can use the internet via satellite. She told the court the area is struggling to get 911 service because of the lack of cell service or landlines, pointing out $120 a month is what it costs to have a 10 gig hot spot. According to her, people in Falcon would be willing to pay $120 a month for internet access.

Bradley said the 458 residents are in a five-mile radius. He told the court the system is reliable and the technicians would come from Lewisville when there are problems, adding all of the technicians are certified. The company, he continued, would need a site for the tower, 50×50 feet, which would be fenced and self-supporting. A soil test would have to be done and bids taken for the construction. In addition, the company would contact Native American tribes to make sure it’s not invading sacred land, check with the historical agencies and run environmental tests. From start to finish, he told the court, it would take about six months to be up and running.

The court discussed the situation but took no action until Bradley said the company would do the preliminary work at no cost to the county and the county would be under no obligation if the money isn’t available. The court agreed and the company will begin looking for a suitable site for the tower.

There was more good news as Ben Hale, assistant district prosecuting attorney, said the county has heard back from Entergy and everyone has signed off on the Nubbin Hill project. The city, he said, has started moving its water lines and is coordinating this with the county and Arkansas Highway Department. The AHD has been notified and can now let bids on the project. “It’s been a long time coming,” he said.

In other business, the court was told there are 55 inmates, with 35 paying, at the Nevada County Jail and this number won’t increase until more jailers can be hired. Currently, the jail is down six employees, with the problem being jailers go to other counties once they’re trained because they can make more money. Mike Otwell said the pay needs to be increased because nobody’s willing to work for $11.25 an hour to do this job, adding it’s more detailed than people realizes. “You can’t be a village idiot and be a jailer,” he said.

Jamie Hillery, executive director of the Prescott-Nevada County Chamber of Commerce said last week’s cleanup day netted more than 4,000 pounds of trash from around the city and another will be done later this year.

She told the court 300 pounds of crawfish and 50 pounds of shrimp have been pre-sold for Friday’s 7th Annual Crawfish Boil, adding things are starting to pick up. In August or September, she said, the Chamber could start doing community coffees and ribbon cuttings again. Hillery informed the court a new business, Meador Farms, has opened and sells meat, fruits, eggs and vegetables.

Mary Godwin, executive director of the Prescott-Nevada County Economic Development Office, said there is funding from the Arkansas Department of Commerce’s Broadband Office through ARPA to improve internet access for those who qualify. She told the court people could get $50 a month for internet service, $75 a month in tribal lands, and $100 to buy laptops or tablets, if they qualify. Schools could qualify based on their free and reduced lunch program. She said this is a federal program which has $1.38 billion available across the nation.

Nevada County Clerk Julie Oliver told the court the snow and cold killed 90 percent of the shrubs around the courthouse and they need to be replaced. The court has about $30,000 available in the budget for improvements and the Nevada County Master Gardeners have agreed to get what’s needed. County employees will remove the current shrubs with the gardeners doing the planting. The old shrubs will be taken to the Nevada County Landfill.