REFUGIO – The Refugio County Commissioners Court approved an agreement that would link five counties via a multi-million dollar fiber optics communications network, subject to review by County Attorney Deb Bauer.
The memorandum of understanding is between Refugio, Aransas, Nueces, San Patricio and Victoria counties for a multi-jurisdictional Community Development Block Grant Mitigation application to install an underground fiber optic communication line and associated infrastructure.
William Whitson, a consultant for Aransas County’s Long Term Recovery project, proposed the joint venture between the five counties. Whitson has helped to spearhead Aransas County and regional recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and talked to the Refugio County commissioners because the project will impact this area as well.
“We are proposing this project from the last wave of funding from Harvey, so it’s really a unique opportunity,” Whitson said. “When Harvey came in, it created a huge mess ... it took out every bit of communications infrastructure (in Aransas County).
“This would place the infrastructure underground so if we had another disaster similar to Harvey it wouldn’t cripple us.”
The plan is to create a 115-mile fiber optic line between Victoria and Aransas County and also between Nueces County and Aransas County, which would include Refugio County.
“Since this project is our branchild we would take the brunt of the 1 percent match (to fund the fiber optic network),” Whitson said.
He estimated the total cost would approach $50 million, with at least $37 million required to complete the project. Each county that enters into the agreement would help pay for the 1 percent match required in order to receive federal funding.
“That’s the basic concept,” Whitson said. “It’s got legs. Victoria County seems to be on board, and San Patricio, and obviously we’re on board. We believe Nueces will come on board, and the city of Rockport, also.”
Aransas County has already received a $398,000 grant to do the study. Whitson said a technical advisory committee will be formed to represent those involved with the project.
“I think it will be four to six months before the GLO (Texas General Land Office) evaluates this project,” he said. “It will likely be late 2021 or early 2022 before a match (in funds) is required.”
Refugio County has already approved a citizen participation plan which would notify local residents of any requirements in their area and also provide a forum to receive citizen feedback.
Refugio County Judge Bobby Blaschke voiced his support for the proposal.
“It’s an opportunity to work with our neighbors, and I think it’s a great project,” he said.
Blaschke said officials in the Austwell-Tivoli area have been trying to get fiber optics in that area for quite some time. This project would help make those efforts a reality.
“It’s an excellent opportunity, but it’s not going to happen overnight,” Blaschke said. “This will help us get ourselves in line with the GLO for a great regional plan.”
“This will go right through Tivoli,” Whitson said of the proposed network. “We’d be happy to work with them (regarding placement of the network).”