ALEXANDER COUNTY, NC (February 2, 2021) – Alexander County communities with little or no broadband internet service will be a priority in 2021 as county commissioners approved a proposal from Open Broadband LLC to provide broadband to approximately 500 homes. The project was discussed at the February 1st Zoom meeting of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners.
David Moose, Alexander County Compliance and Procurement Specialist, informed commissioners that three proposals were received by the deadline of December 14, 2020, from Open Broadband LLC, RiverStreet Networks, and Carolina West Wireless. County staff extensively reviewed the proposals and recommended approval of Open Broadband to commissioners due to the firm’s familiarity with the county, price for service, and more.
Moose said the county will invest $198,500 in the project and Open Broadband will invest $207,000. The project will focus on providing broadband internet service to the northwest, east, and southeast sections of the county.
Alan Fitzpatrick, CEO of Open Broadband, said he is excited about the project. They plan to install equipment at up to five locations to reach approximately 500 homes in these underserved areas. He estimates that 75 percent of the new customers will have service that exceeds the 25 Mbps standard.
“We have a six-month rollout plan after the contract has been executed, so we should start serving these areas in the summer and fall. Our focus will be on people who need internet and don’t have it,” Fitzpatrick said.
Currently, Open Broadband has 125 customers in Alexander County as a result of the recent pilot program. They continue to do installations for homes and businesses that can be served with the current infrastructure.
“We all know that broadband internet isn’t just a ‘want’ anymore, it’s a need,” said Chairman Larry Yoder. “I look forward to getting the ball rolling on this project so more of our citizens will have access to this critical service.”
In other business:
• Commissioners approved a conditional use permit for a townhome project on Heritage Farm Road that would serve those ages 55+. The project is being done by Harbour Town Holdings LLC, owned by Commissioner Josh Lail, who recused himself from the vote. Seth Harris, Zoning Administrator, said the project involves the construction of 11 buildings (44 units) on 11.78 acres of which 7.65 acres will be disturbed. A vegetative buffer will be required on the western and southern property lines. As property owner and developer, Mr. Lail answered some questions about the project as requested by nearby neighbors. He said the rear yards will be 30 feet, each single-story unit will have a one-car garage and a driveway, there will be a homeowners association, and it will tie into the Wittenburg Springs sewer system.
• Commissioners approved a rezoning request from Greg Kiziah to rezone property off NC Hwy. 127 from Highway-Commercial to RA-20 to allow construction of multi-family apartments. Harris said the property is 3.09 acres. He said the project is recommended by the Alexander County Planning and Zoning Commission and is consistent with the 2019 Bethlehem Community Plan.
• Benjie Thomas, engineer with West Consultants, presented updates on the Stony Point Elementary sewer project and Bethlehem sewer project.
He said the Stony Point project is complete, except for some punch list items. The school is connected to the sewer system and the septic system has been abandoned. The final inspection is set for January 22.
Regarding the Bethlehem sewer project, Thomas said he is now helping with the administration of the project. Money from three change orders will soon be received by the county to reimburse for expenses. A segment of gravity sewer on Rink Dam Road will be removed from the project for a savings of $356,000. He said the original project totaled approximately $4.9 million but the revised total is approximately $4.6 million. The project should be substantially complete by March 11, 2021. Those interested in connecting to the sewer system should contact the City of Hickory.
• Leeanne Whisnant, Consolidated Human Services Director, presented a COVID-19 update. She said the county has a cumulative total of 3,514 confirmed cases. There are currently 13 people in the hospital, and sadly, there have been 66 deaths associated with the virus. She said the trend of positive cases is encouraging, with 366 cases the week of 12/27, 109 cases the week of 1/17, and 67 cases the week of 1/31. On Monday, February 1, Alexander County improved from a “red” county to an “orange” county in the state’s County Alert System. As of last week, the health department, which remains in Group 2, had administered 3,411 vaccinations (2,809 first doses and 602 second doses). While vaccine supply continues to be low, the state has committed to shipments of 300 first doses per week for three weeks, so staff is now scheduling first-dose appointments for February 4-5 this week. The department continues to conduct COVID-19 testing on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Commissioner Marty Pennell said he is proud of the health department and its staff as they are outpacing the state’s allotment of the vaccine. With assistance from Alexander County Emergency Services, Whisnant said they could do 1,000 vaccinations each week if the state could provide enough vaccine. She also mentioned that citizens can be vaccinated at other sites regardless of county of residence. Also, those who have had COVID-19 within the past 90 days should wait to receive the vaccine.
Doug Gillispie, Director of Public Services, said his new Emergency Planner Daniel Fox has been working at the health department assisting with fielding calls and scheduling appointments. EMS employees have been administering vaccinations. He has reached out to the four local pharmacies that will be doing vaccinations at some point to provide some emergency management advice and resources. Gillispie said that EMS is running about 700 calls a month, with approximately 60 percent of the calls being COVID-19 related.
Chairman Yoder said that even if citizens get vaccinated, they should still practice the 3 Ws: wear a face covering, wait at least six feet apart, and wash your hands often.
• County Manager Rick French said the school system wants to sell the Old Wittenburg School property at tax value, and the county was asked about its interest in the property. Commissioners agreed they are not interested in purchasing the property at tax value and would provide a letter to the board of education stating that fact. Commissioners indicated they may be interested if the price is reduced and would hopefully have the first right of refusal to purchase.
• County Manager Rick French presented 11 budget ordinance amendments that were approved by commissioners.
• In the County Manager’s Report, Mr. French advised the board to consider a seven-month moratorium on solar farm construction in Alexander County. He said solar farms can be built in any zoning district. A solar farm was recently constructed at the intersection of NC Hwy. 16 South and County Home Road, and now another one is in the works just south of there. French said other counties are also taking action, and he would like to consult with them to explore options to control the growth of solar farms and ways to require more screening so they’re not as visible from the road or adjacent properties.
The Alexander County Board of Commissioners typically meets on the first Monday of each month at 6:00 p.m. in room #103 at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education. The next meeting is set for Monday, March 1 at 6:00 p.m. Regular meetings are recorded, and can be viewed on the county’s Government Channel on Spectrum channel 192 or on the county’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/alexandercountync. Meeting agendas, minutes, videos, and more are available on the county’s website at www.alexandercountync.gov/commissioners.