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Sibley County Board tables RS Fiber Project

September 26, 2012
By Fritz Busch - Staff Writer , The Journal

GAYLORD - Sibley County commissioners tabled action Tuesday on the RS Fiber to Home Project bonding. They cited lack of information about legal and financial details.

"There is a legal question on whether the county can enter into this project," said Commissioner Bill Pinske.

Commissioner Jim Swanson said the board wants to make sure it does things correctly the first time so it doesn't have to put things back together later.

"We know if it was easy, somebody else would've done it," Winthrop Mayor Dave Trebelhorn said. "We feel we've got one of the best attorneys in the country Can we wait two more weeks?"

Unless a special meeting is called, the board will re-visit the issue on Tuesday, Oct. 9.

The fiber optic project required about $70 million in bonding from Sibley and Renville counties to create high-speed internet, telephone and cable TV service. It has the support of more than 55 percent of survey respondents, according to Sibley County Economic Development Authority (EDA) Director Tim Dolan.

The City of Arlington pulled out of the project early this year.

"We've got more than 80 percent support in three townships and 70 percent in a few others," Dolan said.

Earlier this year, Dolan said project cash flow figures show profitability for all 30 years of the forecast.

Bonding costs for the publicly-financed, privately-managed project would be repaid with user fees.

Shannon Sweeney of David Drown Associates in Waconia, representing Sibley County in the project, said he felt more time is needed to address bonding and financial issues being studied by Twin Cities attorneys.

"We want to make sure everyone is comfortable with the decision and understand there are differences of opinion," Sweeney said. "There is a lot to digest here."

Financial issues that remain to be resolved include who would pay for the project's legal costs plus cash flow analysis figures.

"Those things have to be resolved before we can vote on (bonding) it," Pinske said. "We have to ensure we're authorized under statute (law) to do the project."

Sweeney said legal opinions on the project may remain and that commissioners would have to decide whose opinions they value the most.

"I don't know how much more time we have," he added. "It would take about a month to set the bonding interest rate once bonding is approved."

Sibley County Assistant Attorney Don Lannoye said he would be in contact with attorneys Tuesday afternoon to see if he could help provide them with data they claim to be missing before releasing their opinions of the project.

At a fiber project joint powers board meeting in Winthrop last spring, Trebelhorn said the joint powers board would hire a system operator to manage the system if it becomes reality.

Winthrop resident Dale Malheim, a mayoral candidate, circulated a petition seeking a referendum vote this fall to see if public money should be used for the project. Although Malheim claimed he had enough signatures for a vote, a referendum will not be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at



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