Wakefield Township in line for internet expansion funds


WAKEFIELD TOWNSHIP — The Wakefield Township Board of Trustees learned Tuesday evening that it may receive two different sources of funds to continue improving rural internet service. Supervisor Mandy Lake reported the good news while all recently elected members met together for the first time in the Wakefield Township Hall.

COVID-19 restrictions have limited the board mainly to virtual meetings in recent months. Lake said the township is slated to receive $29,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act on 2021, which is the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that President Joe Biden just signed last month in response to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. “We should be receiving a payment within another five weeks,” said Lake, who also chairs the board. Moreover, the township also will receive a second allotment of $29,000 in about a year. The funds, which are allotted per capita, then must be used by 2024 for “infrastructure-related” purposes. According to Lake, the federal funds may be used for water or sewer needs, which do not now apply to the township, or for broadband expansion.

She later told the Globe that she expects to get further elaboration from the government on the precise terms of how the money can be spent. The supervisor said that a second course of pandemic funds also might be forthcoming from the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (Phase 1). Lake said that Bessemer City Manager Charly Loper alerted her that Gogebic County is in line to receive funds, but added that details are not yet clear. Lake said the timing or amount of FCC funds is not known but noted that companies will be required to submit bids. She added that she will check into the matter further and concluded of any fund allotment, “I’m always leery of this until we receive it.”

The supervisor also said that Brandon Yuchasz of GogebicRange.net of Marenisco has suggested two personal property sites for possible internet expansion and has asked the township to approach owners to discuss a possible agreement.

In other news, the board also voted to schedule a spring clean-up day on May 22 from 8 a.m. to noon at Western U.P. Recycling in the industrial park. The clean-up will allow township residents to rid themselves of refuse at no cost. Trustee Mike Heikkila questioned whether senior citizens could receive pick-up service if needed. “A lot of people don’t have access to a vehicle,” he said. “They’d have to hire someone.” He offered to provide use of a pick-up truck and trailer. Trustee Rob Drier, who helps with each year’s clean-up, agreed that would be a good idea but suggested that pick-up items be restricted to smaller items. Lake said she will send out an advance letter with further terms for residents. Treasurer Denice Laessig also volunteered to monitor the clean-up. Last year’s spring clean-up had been cancelled due to the pandemic.

Board members also:

—Learned from Lake that she is “impressed” with new Board of Review members. “They are filling their shoes well,” she said. Board members are Shelley Nordine, Tom Wagner and Dave Wanink. Lake later said that she and Township Assessor Melissa Prisbe also sit in on the meetings even though they are not members.

—Summed up results from having attended a recent virtual meeting that reviewed pipeline activity within the township. Members agreed that the information was useful, and Clerk Jennifer Ahonen added that she appreciated how safety officials were available to answer related questions.

—Heard Laessig volunteer to review minutes from the Gogebic County Council of Veterans Affairs and to consult Jack Lillar, council president, with any questions.

—Voted to hire Austin Ahonen at $35 per hour to mow the township hall lawn as needed. The board’s next regular meeting will be on May 4 at 5:30 p.m. in the township hall. The public is invited with the knowledge that masks and social distancing will be required.