Busy county board considers wi-fi plan, endorses new chair of legislature's resources committee
November 12, 2020
On Tuesday, Wahkiakum County commissioners learned more about a project to extend wi-fi in Cathlamet, agreed to send a letter of support for a representative who hoped to succeed Brian Blake as the chair of the Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and approved a couple contracts for Wahkiakum Health and Human Services.
Town of Cathlamet Councilman David Olson spoke to the commissioners about a project to extend wi-fi service in Cathlamet. The county is being asked if they would be willing to contribute $12,581.67 from CARES Act funds to pay for the infrastructure.
“We live in a century where every improvement in connectivity helps everyone else,” Olson said.
He addressed a commissioner’s recent concern that their participation in the project might involve the gifting of public funds, noting that communities in Kansas, Idaho, West Virginia, and rural Pennsylvania had used CARES Act funds for broadband projects.
Olson also pointed out that it would be a public-private partnership with a local business, ComputerLink NW, operated by Steve Carson of Skamokawa.
“It helps grow local businesses to do this,” Olson said. “It’s a linkage to the PUD [broadband] project, it’s linkage to the need in this country for everybody to be connected. It recognizes that these broadband systems are the roads and bridges that people use to communicate. It has applications: public safety, economic development, tourism, real estate, education, health care.”
Olson said the Wahkiakum Chamber of Commerce, the town council, and Wahkiakum County Port 1 had all agreed to support the project.
Initially, he said, planners had hoped to provide wi-fi from Wahkiakum School District to Main Street and on to the Elochoman Slough Marina, but because the school already had a public wi-fi available for their students, the project was “re-sculpted” with Carson’s help, to go from Wahkiakum Chamber of Commerce down the street to Bank of the Pacific, and then on to the port.
“If the prosecutor will come back and say, this is clean, I will have no problem,” Commissioner Gene Strong said. “You answered a lot of questions. I think it’s a great project. We want to ensure that no where in this is gifting of public funds. We want to make sure we are clean on that.”
Wahkiakum Health and Human Services Director Chris Bischoff reminded everyone that CARES Act funding needed to be expended by December 13.
The commissioners approved the county’s participation in the project on the condition that Prosecuting Attorney Dan Bigelow determined that this was an acceptable use of CARES Act funding.
Kent and Irene Martin spoke to the commissioners about some of their concerns and encouraged the three to send a letter supporting Debra Lekanoff’s bid for chairmanship of the Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
“The 19th District has been fortunate in having chairmanship in the hands of Brian Blake. We don’t have that anymore,” Irene Martin said. “It’s a big loss to this county, because Brian was very knowledgeable on the natural resources issues that this county depends on.”
Martin said that Lekanoff had been mentored by Blake for years, and that she had fished, been involved in the timber industry and with agriculture.
“She’s very up on these issues. I was pleasantly astonished at how much she has accomplished and how deep the knowledge is,” Irene Martin said. “She is being supported by the Farm Bureau, and the Hunters Heritage, and a number of other very significant organizations. Clearly they have some respect and confidence in her ability to deliver the kinds of things we want.”
“If we don’t have somebody on the chairmanship with a rural mindset instead of the urban mindset, we are in deep trouble,” Commissioner Dan Cothren said. “That is a huge position. This timber stuff I deal with and the fishing, it all goes hand in hand. We need somebody on that board that is looking out for us.”
The commissioners agreed to send a letter in support of Lekanoff.
In other news, commissioners approved a contract between WHHS and the Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities of Southwest Washington to provide services as the Aging and Disability Resource Center for Wahkiakum County from January 1, 2021 until December 31, 2022, in the amount of $5,000.
They approved a contract amendment between WHHS and the Washington State Health Care Authority for prevention services in the amount of $232,500.
They also approved a letter from Pacific, Skamania and Wahkiakum Counties to Governor Jay Inslee regarding Encumbered Lands Appropriation for 2021.