Rural areas to receive faster internet speeds

OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl On Tuesday, County of Chautauqua Industrial Development Agency CEO Mark Geise, pictured center, shared an update with the board of directors on county projects, including Dunkirk’s Coburn Block, construction at the Athenex site and a Ripley gateway center into New York state.

On Tuesday morning, the County of Chautauqua Industrial Development Agency board of directors approved two resolutions that will help DFT Communications bring high speed internet to under-served areas of the county — a project that has been needed for several years, according to CEO Mark Geise.

At the monthly board of directors meeting, which was held at the Fredonia Technology Incubator at 214 Central Ave. in Dunkirk, members learned that the $5.3 million project is approximately 80 percent complete. Geise explained that Mark Maytum of DFT Communications approached the board several months ago with a project of stringing fiber in the rural areas of Chautauqua County. He pointed out that, while a good idea, this project was not feasible without grant funding and assistance from the CCIDA in the form of a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement.

The first resolution the board of directors unanimously approved was the SEQR resolution (state environmental quality review), which George Craig explained was necessary when a project involves physical changes to an area. Because this project is adding equipment to already existing poles and adding a small number of poles, Craig explained that it is a type two action, meaning SEQR requires no further action for the project to be in compliance.

The second resolution involved the IDA’s purpose in assisting with the project. Craig explained that the state now requires IDAs to document the expected benefits from the project. “The expected benefits, we think, are the construction jobs of putting this equipment in and the private sector investment on this $5.3 million project, which is about $1 million in private sector and $4 million in state investment (grant funding),” Craig stated.

Importantly, Craig included the category of “other benefit,” which he believes to be the most important reason. “The real reason why you’re doing this project is to get high speed internet to under-served areas of the county because that will stimulate both new job growth, also training of the workforce, also training of the kids who will ultimately end up in the workforce,” Craig said.

“The economics of running the cable without the state funding was unachievable,” Geise added. “With the state coming in with the funding and DFT stepping up to the plate to do this, it probably was not going to happen otherwise. I’m glad that the IDA could be part of it.”

Craig reported that the company has completed approximately 80 percent of the project and is not seeking a sales tax or mortgage tax benefit. Rather, “the real benefit they’re looking for is to exempt this property under your uniform tax exemption policy for a period of years to help them offset the fact that this — at least in the early years — will not be a money-maker,” he said. Board members, who reported no conflicts of interest with DFT Communications or this project, voted unanimously to approve the second resolution.

In Geise’s report, he shared updates on several projects throughout Chautauqua County:

¯ The CCIDA has contracted with Clark Patterson Lee to conduct a feasibility study for a Ripley gateway commerce center as an entrance to New York state. “We’re doing a feasibility study to look at the scope and size of what this would be, what the cost would be, and then we’ll leverage that in order to go after the funding to procure the land, to build,” Geise stated.

¯ Dunkirk’s Coburn Block on Central Avenue has been purchased by a local developer. “They’re looking to do market rate housing; we’ve had a number of meetings with them, as they’ve come to the IDA for some assistance,” said Geise, who added that the IDA has sent them an application and continues to work with them.

¯ Geise was pleased to report that last week, the last piece of steel went up at the future site of Athenex on Route 5 in the town of Dunkirk. He expects a press release from the state regarding this feat within a week.

¯ The CCIDA has had a number of inquiries regarding solar power, according to Geise. He explained to the board that the IDA is currently working on incentives and looking to other New York counties for ideas. “I think we’re getting pretty close to what that should look like,” Geise said. “It’s going to look a bit different for every project, depending on the term and their specific situation. We’ve been talking to our County Executive George Borrello about it too.”

CCIDA CFO Rich Nixon added that the IDA would like to get together with the town governments and discuss their zoning laws as they pertain to solar power. Geise said that the IDA has already met with officials from the town of Sheridan on Monday, as there is a solar project proposed there.

Michael Metzger, chairman of the board of directors, reported that SUNY Fredonia is putting in a solar ray field in August. The project, which he explained is a private-public partnership, will be installed along the New York State Thruway and will connect to the power station that already exists in that area.