APPLETON — The Appleton Select Board agreed to contribute $15,400 to make sure all homes are connected to reliable internet service — if a state grant is approved.

The funds will be added to an equal amount from Tidewater Telecom in its effort to secure a $298,084 state grant designed to connect more Maine homes to the internet.

The approval was unanimous and contingent only on the drafting and signing of a letter of commitment that details the town’s contribution and what Tidewater will do and when. Both parties agreed to the letter.

The Dec. 6 board action followed a tense meeting on Nov. 29 when Tidewater’s representative did not appear as expected because he was ill. At that time, board members declined to agree to a deal without knowing more details and written assurances Tidewater will hold up its end of the bargain.

The Dec. 6 meeting by comparison went smoothy after Tidewater’s Alan Hinsey laid out his firm’s plan and assured board members that, if the grant application is approved, the town will receive regular progress reports once work begins.

One matter that had raised questions in the earlier meeting was the use of the term ‘match’ in Tidewater’s grant documents. Board Chair Lorie Costigan noted that the Reach ME grant category involved does not require town matches.

Hinsey on Dec. 6 agreed with Costigan and explained, “There is not a match requirement in the application…the requirement is ours.” Tidewater will submit similar grant applications for work in six towns and is requiring that all municipalities contribute, he said.

Tidewater Telecom’s Alan Hinsey at the Dec. 6 meeting of the Appleton Select Board. Photo by Jack M. Foley

Two items changed in the grant situation between the two meetings, Hinsey explained. One was an increase of about $7,000 in the original $291,000 grant request. That was due to a state requirement to include Tidewater’s actual cost of installing some of the longer cable runs. The other was an extension of the grant deadline to Jan. 6.

“Hopefully the extra month will give plenty of time to make sure all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed,” Costigan remarked.

Although the new deadline is in January, Tidewater wants to submit its application by Dec. 16, Hinsey told the board. “We are ready to submit and get it done,” he said.

The $15,400 of town funds committed to the Tidewater project comes from Appleton’s share of hundreds of millions of dollars in American Rescue Plan Act grants from the federal government to deal with COVID and related issues at the state, county and municipal levels. Appleton’s share was about $145,000.

The state broadband grants also originate at the federal level and are being administered by the Maine Connectivity Authority.

Earlier in the year, Appleton had committed about $66,000 of ARPA funds to Tidewater’s initial grant application to connect the 44 homes. That application was unsuccessful, a first for Tidewater, according to Hinsey.

If MCA approves Tidewater’s new application, it will take seven to nine months to connect all of the households to the fiber optic system is operates throughout the rest of Appleton, Hinsey said.

The homes are located along  Collinstown Road south of Burkettville Road, Hatchery Lane, and Campground, Mitchell Hill, Fishtown and Esancy roads.

 

Alan Hinsey told the Appleton Select Board that Tidewater Telecom requires town contributions to its grant applications. Photo by Jack M. Foley