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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Bois Forte broadband project close to bidding

David Colburn
Posted 10/25/23

NETT LAKE- After a delay in the state’s required historical review process, construction bids will soon be sought for the $19.8 million Bois Forte Band high-speed broadband project serving the …

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Bois Forte broadband project close to bidding


NETT LAKE- After a delay in the state’s required historical review process, construction bids will soon be sought for the $19.8 million Bois Forte Band high-speed broadband project serving the south shore of Lake Vermilion and areas around Orr.
Bois Forte Information Technology Director Randy Long said on Tuesday that the detailed engineering for the project, which is being done in partnership with CTC Telecom, is “pretty much wrapped up.”
The band had originally hoped to break ground on the project this year, but a mandated review of plans by the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has taken far longer than expected.
“We are going on ten months of waiting for the state of Minnesota SHPO office to complete their work on the project,” Long said.
A note on the SHPO webpage indicates that they have received a high volume of federal, state, and local projects, creating a heavier-than-normal workload amid staffing constraints. Broadband projects that are federally funded and which could potentially affect historical resources and archaeological resources must be reviewed in light of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as well as several state laws intended to preserve items and areas of historic significance.
“They have to review every square foot of this plan to make sure that historical preservation is intact,” Long said. “I just got off the phone with CTC because they have a concern with (the review process), too. We’re going to try to get this expedited in the upcoming week. But that’s been a ten-month process we never anticipated encountering. It’s been a bit of a learning curve.”
If the project can get the green light from SHPO, then bids can go out and project construction could begin next spring, Long said.
Long noted last fall that the final scope of the deployment could be curtailed somewhat depending on the availability and cost of fiber optic cable and equipment, as well as unanticipated construction costs, which could be likely when dealing with Vermilion’s rocky south shore. The original plan was to start just west of Tower, and stretch fiber optic broadband all the way to the west end of Lake Vermilion, wrapping around the whole of Head of the Lakes Bay. The southern border for broadband deployment would be Hwy. 115 up to about Wakely Rd, where it would then taper to the northwest and Head of the Lakes Bay. The Orr portion of the development would include residential and resort areas along the northwest shore of Pelican Lake and west along Nett Lake Rd. to serve the major areas of residential and commercial properties along the south shore.
The new system will connect with another Band project serving the Vermilion and Nett Lake sectors and Indian Point on Pelican Lake. Sign-ups for those systems have been taking place, and Long said the systems will be coming online soon.
“We have our first customers being lit up on Oct. 30 – that’s for the Nett Lake, Palmquist, and Indian Point areas,” Long said. “And then Nov. 9 we’re doing sign ups for the Vermilion sector and will probably turn them on in mid-November.”
Long said the partnership with CTC has worked well.
“They’ve been great,” he said. “They’ve been working with several other tribes to bring them to the same point. “But our communication with CTC has been great.”
And while all of the broadband development Long is involved with is more than what he envisioned when he started delving into possibilities five or six years ago, he’s pleased to be a part of bringing the service to such a large swath of the North Country.
“The more fiber we can get into the ground in northern Minnesota the better it’s going to be for everyone,” he said.
Long said that the Band’s website is in the process of being updated, and once that is complete he will see about providing project updates in the information technology section of the site.