Karuk Tribe presents broadband project to county; Board of Supervisors reviews mental health grant, public bidding ordinance

Karuk Tribe representatives gave a presentation on their project to bring broadband Internet service to rural Northern Humboldt at Tuesday's county Board of Supervisors meeting.

Karuk Tribe Councilman Amos Tripp told the board that most California tribes have been able to survive due to their isolation, but the Klamath River Rural Broadband Initiative will provide vital services in the modern world.

"I think this broadband project is going to take us out of that area of isolation," Tripp said. "It is something that I think is needed. There are a lot of opportunities to use this in ways that will help our tribes."

The project -- which received a $6.6 million grant from the California Advanced Services Fund for California Public Utility Commission in October -- will install 82.3 miles of fiber optic cables to provide Internet access to communities in Orleans, Orick, Johnsons, Wautec and Weitchpec. The Karuk Tribe is collaborating with the Yurok Tribe in order to provide broadband to a larger region of the county.

Karuk Tribe Information Technology Director Eric Cutright emphasized to the board that the project will provide necessary services to schools and businesses, as well as increase access to information and health care services.

"I believe (broadband) is the new utility," Cutright said. "I believe you deserve broadband, just like you deserve water and electricity."

As the cables will run through lands -- including the Redwood National Forest -- owned by the state, private owners and the federal government, EnerTribe Permit Director Penny Jennings Eckert said that acquiring permits will be a lengthy task.

"When you build a linear project, you go through lots of different land ownership and land regulation agencies," Eckert said. "This is a wonderful opportunity to learn about permitting in every venue there is."

Eckert asked the board to consider providing them a "single point of contact" in the county to provide some direction and representation when dealing with the state and federal agencies.

"Bringing a utility through a national park will not be a lead-pipe cinch," Eckert said. "I believe that we will be successful, but we will need the county's support."

Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg commended the efforts.

"It's really amazing for a small rural community to have the expertise you guys have and the vision the tribe has to put all this together," Sundberg said. "We can make this happen, I'm sure."

The current project expands on another broadband project from the Karuk Tribe. The project received a $1.14 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2011 to install fiber optic cables for broadband services in Orleans. As part of the Tuesday meeting, the board approved a Memorandum of Agreement between the county and the Karuk Tribe, which will provide an encroachment permit to build necessary facilities for the project along Ishi Pishi Road between Somes Bar and Orleans.

Cutright said that Orleans should have Internet access by this spring.

County Health and Human Services Department Director Phillip Crandall also updated the board on an $85,000 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to form the Humboldt County Behavioral Health Integration Network.

"We're adding additional staff, redirecting staff time," Crandall said. "This is to get everyone together to look at the data, to look at what strategies might be better, to reduce poor health care outcomes and begin implementation activities."

The board unanimously voted to set the adoption of an ordinance changing public project bidding procedures in county code for the Jan. 28 board meeting. Deputy County Counsel Jefferson Billingsley will update county code to reflect the language in California's public contract code regarding when the board can implement informal bidding procedures for public projects.

"Every couple of years, the state changes these limits," Billingsley said. "We're just making sure that when state law changes, we don't have to keep changing ours too."

Adjourning as the board and convening as the public authority for In-Home Supportive Services, the board approved the appointment of two new members to the In-Home Supportive Services Advisory Board.

The board ended the meeting with a brief review of the federal budget and federal legislation during the last six months of 2013 given by County Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Hanes.

"Basically, the message of both is that we have been making slow progress on a number of fronts," Smith-Hanes said.

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504 or whouston@times-standard.com. Follow him on Twitter @Will_S_Houston.