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County judge provides update on projects

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By Emily Banks Wooten
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SydneyMurphyCounty Judge Sydney Murphy provided updates on several ongoing county projects during a recent meeting of the Rotary Club of Livingston, most notably, the fiber optic project funded by the America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

“We were able to parlay on ARPA funds and get double the funds for fiber and broadband capability. We had formed a committee previously and identified the backbone structure for what Polk County would need if we ever got our wish list and we focused on U.S. 190, U.S. 59 and FM 287,” Murphy said.

“There was LivCom which is now Highline and Eastex. We invited AT&T since they service Corrigan but never heard from them. LivCom (Highline) did 50/50. It’s 60/40 with Eastex. We said it would be theirs to manage and direct. It’s heading toward completion as we speak. All of the ARPA funds must be expended by the end of 2025,” she said.

“That’s quite an accomplishment for a small rural county. I want to thank our partners for also seeing the vision. There was no interoperable connectivity in the north end of the county. Now we have a 440-foot tower that was constructed on 287. The benefit of that is that now emergency responders will not be hitting black holes anymore. This will have a tremendous impact for Corrigan-Camden ISD. All of our school districts, our cities, our residents and our business community will be impacted. I’m very excited about that.

“Thanks to Jessica Hutchins, our grants and contracts manager, we’re handling right now close to $30 million in grant money, probably more grant money than we’ve handled in the last 25 years,” Murphy said.

“We had (Hurricane) Harvey mitigation monies and we had ARPA money. Federal money comes with lots of strings attached so we had to figure out where to use what, use every penny and still fall within their guidelines. We contacted all of our water districts, first responders and volunteer fire departments and asked, ‘What would your wish list look like?’” Murphy said, adding that emergency generators were added.

“Keep in mind that it’s Polk County, so our funds are limited to only the unincorporated areas,” she said.

Moving on, Murphy reported on a new emergency shelter that will be constructed near 600 Onalaska Loop.

“The tornado in Onalaska really brought it all to the forefront the need for shelters. We have the Polk County Commerce Center and Dunbar Gym in Livingston and the Sechrest Webster Community Center in Corrigan and the Alabama-Coushatta Cultural Center and the Goodrich Community Center but nothing in Corrigan so we’re using Harvey mitigation and ARPA monies to build a shelter in Onalaska, which also can be used by the game wardens 365 days a year. Historically, every 8-10 years we have an event. But we don’t want a building just sitting there not being used the rest of the time,” she said.

In closing, Murphy touched on the progress that’s been made regarding development and subdivision regulations. “Now we don’t have the number of health and safety issues we used to have with water, drainage, etc.,” she said.

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