With help from a state grant, Morris Broadband plans to bring improved Internet, phone and cable TV service into rural and isolated areas of McDowell County next year and extend those same services to areas underserved, reaching nearly 400 potential new customers.

That was the message from Tony Carter, general manager of Morris Broadband, to the McDowell County Board of Commissioners. During their regular December meeting on Monday, the commissioners received a PowerPoint report from Carter about how his company plans to provide better service to rural sections of McDowell.

Recently, the North Carolina Department of Information Technology’s Broadband Infrastructure Office created the GREAT Broadband grant to provide funding to Internet providers located in rural areas. GREAT stands for Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology. McDowell County is a beneficiary because a $757,200 GREAT grant was awarded to Morris Broadband, which provides cable TV, phone and Internet service to parts of the county.

With this grant, Morris Broadband plans to spend $407,750 making a total investment of $1.165 million.

Starting in February, Morris Broadband will begin construction so cable TV, phone and Internet service can be upgraded to existing customers and those services can be brought to areas of McDowell that are underserved. The estimated date of completion is November 2020, according to the report by Carter.

The new and improved lines will run along Mud Cut Road, Bethel Church Road, Lawing Road, Grassy Hollow Drive, Rock House Road, Wildberry Drive, Benview Drive, Pine Valley Drive, Sugar Hill Heights Drive, Montford Cove Road, Sugar Hill Road, Old Fort Sugar Hill Road, Epley Drive, Wayne Hyatt Drive, Zion Hill Road, Butter Cup Lane and other roads in McDowell.

The lines are expected to bring cable TV, phone and broadband Internet to underserved areas and will pass by 381 locations, five of which are businesses, according to the report by Carter.

In a related matter, the McDowell County commissioners heard the PowerPoint presentation from Chris Revis of the McDowell Broadband Action Team (McBAT).

Several months ago, a new initiative was spun out of the McBAT. This group was formed to be more or less a subcommittee of individuals and entities (school system, local officials, private providers) that work to identify areas that need broadband Internet and will then suggest action items for the other community partners.

In his report to the commissioners, Revis said locally, there are 3,600 households that report having no access to Internet services. And the number of student households with no Internet access is 1,200 or 20% of the student population. He said the time has come for us to think of Internet service as a utility like electricity and telephones.

In other business, the McDowell County Board of Commissioners:

» Went about the business of choosing a chairman and vice chairman. Commissioner Lynn Greene said, in the interest of time, that he would nominate Commissioner David Walker to remain as chairman and Commissioner Tony Brown to remain as vice chairman. No other nominations were received and the board voted unanimously to keep Walker as chairman and Brown as vice chairman.

» Reappointed Tammy Wylie as tax assessor.

» Listened to a PowerPoint presentation about the Isothermal Regional Comprehensive Transportation Plan. After hearing the report, the commissioners voted to endorse the plan.

» Talked about the extension of water service to an area north of Nebo Elementary. Since the completion of the Stacy Hill Road water line, county staff has looked at areas in Nebo that might make sense for future extensions. After a period of evaluation and discussing ideas with engineers, staff suggested that the county look at the area north of Nebo Elementary for service. There are several main roads such as Ned McGimsey and Jack Corpening that have enough residents that would be ideal for water service. After a discussion, the commissioners voted to move forward with this project.

» Appointed Amy Vaughn to the Transportation Committee.

» Talked about the naming of the new bridge on Sugar Hill Road that will span across Interstate 40. Last month, Brown suggested that the new bridge should be named for business owner Clifford “Ford” Miller, who has built many bridges in his career. The commissioners agreed that Miller would be the ideal choice for a name on this bridge. They will next talk about it with city of Marion officials since that bridge falls within the city’s jurisdiction as well.

» Talked again about the public shooting range project. At the November meeting, Gary Gardner with N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission said the federal government will cover 90% of the cost to develop the shooting range on the county’s land. The state previously asked the county to donate the land to the project in order to meet the local match. However, several commissioners suggested that it might be more advantageous for the county to provide the 10% match in cash, instead of giving the property. If the current cost estimate is used, that match would be approximately $260,000. At Monday’s meeting, the commissioners voted to give the money and retain the land.

» Agreed to remodel the old District Attorney office space on the third floor of the courthouse. This work will involve removing the old paneling in the walls and the outdated wiring. The cost is approximately $41,000. County Manager Ashley Wooten said the renovation work at the courthouse should be done by spring 2020.

» Voted on a series of administrative items. One of them was about the placement of a cell phone tower on the land where Sandy Andrews Park is located. County staff had advertised the consideration of the lease of county property for a cell tower at the park. However, the family members who donated the land indicated the property was to be used for recreational purposes only and the cell tower would not be consistent with their wishes. Therefore, staff did not ask the commissioners to approve this item.

» Agreed to hold the regular January meeting on Monday, Jan. 27 so it would not be held on Martin Luther King Day.

» Declared January as Nation Radon Action Month in McDowell.

» Adopted a resolution endorsing changes to the public school assessments.

» Video recorded their Christmas greetings to the people of McDowell County. This is a long-standing tradition by the commissioners and their Christmas greetings will be shown, along with the rest of meeting, on the county’s Web site and cable TV channels. “Don’t forget what it is all about, the greatest gift that was ever given, the birth of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ,” said Commissioner Lynn Greene to the camera. “God has been good to all of us,” said Commission Chairman David Walker to the camera. “There’s a lot of needs. The greatest need of anyone is to become born again.” Commissioner Barry McPeters read the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke.

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