Adams County broadband project on-track

Mar. 20—RITZVILLE — According to Adams County Public Works Director Todd O'Brien, the county's broadband project — which will bring a high-speed internet fiber optic network to areas of the county that previously lacked coverage — is on track and going well.

"There are three specific areas that this first project is covering. One is the city of Ritzville, and that's basically inside the city limits," O'Brien said. "Then inside the town limits of Lind, and then in the rural area outside of the city limits of Othello; that would be south of Othello and generally west of Othello, to cover the areas like the golf course and several of the subdivisions that are out in that area."

O'Brien said the county received a $10.3 million grant in October 2022 through the Washington State Department of Commerce to put in the network infrastructure.

"When we're finished, the backbone will be in place for the fiber optic, and then ISPs, or internet service providers, will be able to tap into our lines and the system that we have and drop fiber optic directly into residences or businesses along the way," he said.

The county is almost done with the project design process.

"We've selected a consultant and have been working with a consultant on a design for the backbone of the system that comes in there," O'Brien said. "Design-wise, we are pretty much doing the final reviews, so 95%-100% complete on the town of Lind portion. We're 90% complete on the Ritzville portion, and about 75%, complete on the design of the Othello portion."

O'Brien said the permit process relies on the design process, so it is not as far along.

"As you can imagine, there are several permits that are required. The bulk of the fiber will be aerial, so we're working through permits with the local utility companies to get permits to hang on their poles," he said. "We're also working on permits with railroads, the cities and towns themselves, and East Columbia Basin Irrigation District. There are one or two spots where we need a private easement for some underground work on a vault, and then also anytime we would be crossing a state highway (requires a permit)...We're probably in the vicinity of 50% complete on collecting all the permits."

The next step would be construction.

"Provided we can get through the permit process, we have the potential to be in construction in mid-summer this year or late summer of this year, and we will probably work it in phases, with the town of Lind, city of Ritzville and Othello in three different phases where we have contractors working," O'Brien said. "Depending upon the permit process, it may make sense to bid out Ritzville and Lind together and Othello by itself just because of the size of the project. Or we may look at doing all three at the same time, but we haven't come to a conclusion on that yet"

The county has already purchased some of the materials they will be installing.

"Because of supply chain problems in the past, for fiber optic cable and vaults, they've had a long lead time on them. So, we took the opportunity to put that portion out to bid already, and we've secured the materials for the bulk of the project, for fiber optic cable and underground vaults, and they are sitting at our Public Works facility in Othello," O'Brien said. "So when the project is bid (out) it will be an agency-supplied material, and the contractors will use our material rather than have to bid on the project, then go find a supplier and wait 10 to 15 weeks to get the material."

O'Brien said the county has not yet faced any significant challenges on the project nor had any pushback from other entities or individuals.

"We've contacted a couple of private owners, but they seem very amenable to it, simply because it will give them access," he said. "Our backbone will be right next to their property, so they're usually in favor of the project because that means they're going to have fiber optic access."

The coverage will bring access to many individuals in the county.

"Whether they sign up or not will be completely up to the landowner," O'Brien said, "but we're looking at trying to provide access to 2,800 plus residents and/or businesses."

Gabriel Davis may be reached at gdavis@columbiabasinherald.com.