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Port authority talks broadband, tours training center

STEUBENVILLE — The regular part of Wednesday’s Jefferson County Port Authority board of directors meeting started with a discussion about expanding high-speed Internet in the county.

Prior to that, though, the board took a tour of the Jeffco Training Center with Jefferson County Board of Developmental Disabilities Superintendent Michael Zinno.

The building, located on Cherry Avenue, was originally constructed as a training center by the military following World War II prior to becoming property of the county.

The board was shown offices, classrooms, work areas, living spaces and other ways the building has been modified to accommodate the BODD’s purposes.

The board’s meeting was held in one of the facility’s conference rooms.

Once regular business got under way, Executive Director Robert Naylor, during his report to the board, discussed meetings he and port authority consultant Evan Scurti had in regards to looking at expanding broadband access in the county.

He said he, Scurti and Jefferson County Commissioner Tony Morelli attended a broadband overview meeting with the Medina County Port Authority, which has its own broadband ring. Naylor said the director of that authority provided details about how Medina County got to that point.

He also pointed to recent reports about a private equity firm interested in providing private broadband service to parts of Belmont County.

Naylor said he had a conversation with and received information from Belmont County Port Authority Director Larry Merry about OhioGig, a private group.

“They are going to privately put in broadband, that’s their goal, over a three- or four-year time period,” Naylor said of the group.

It was noted by Naylor that two companies that were the winners of the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auctions in Jefferson County are wireless providers, not broadband.

He said OhioGig “is very interested in coming here.”

Naylor said he would like the port authority to work with Belmont, Harrison, Carroll and Columbiana counties “to try to develop this.”

He noted OhioGig seeks “institutional investors” for the project.

“They’re not looking for the government, it’s all private development,” Naylor said.

“We had a very good initial conversation with them,” he said, also informing the board he is going to provide some road and GIS data to the company.

He noted that more details about the RDOF awardees from the FCC has been hard to come by. Also discussed:

– Naylor informed the board Bully Tools plans to break ground on the first phase of a 60,000-square-foot expansion at the Jefferson County Industrial Park on May 6. The port authority worked with the company throughout the process of the purchase of the 3.67-acre parcel to expand the operation.

– Naylor updated the board on the bond issuance process with JSW Steel. He said the port authority has weekly calls with the company and “everything on our end is complete.” The port authority has an agreement to be a conduit bond issuer of $41 million in tax-exempt bonds to upgrade the Mingo Junction facility’s electric arc furnace and caster line.

He said JSW recently became the largest steel producer in India. He said he would like to see local students be able to observe the new arc furnace.

– A motion was made that a letter be drafted to Habitat for Humanity in regards to its request for an extension on the land transfer agreement for a home to be constructed, stating the board does not object. The organization asked for an extension from December of this year to December of 2022 due to a prospective tenant of the home to be constructed backing out.

It was noted no objection was received from the city of Steubenville, the other entity in the agreement for the two parcels located in the city.

– Motions were made to authorize the submission of a request for a draw and to pay invoices once funds are received in relation to an abandoned gas station grant.

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