2018-04-12 / Front Page

GTB enters cable, internet business

Laying fiber optic lines
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff


SUBCONTACTORS WORKING for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians were laying underground fiber optic cable along M-204 this week. SUBCONTACTORS WORKING for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians were laying underground fiber optic cable along M-204 this week. The choice of internet, cable TV and phone service providers may increase in Leelanau County and throughout northwest lower Michigan from an unexpected source – the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

The tribe this week began laying miles of fiber optic cable along county and state rights-of-way in Leelanau County, continuing a project it began last summer.

The plan is to lay cable from the Chums Corner area in Grand Traverse County to tribally-owned property on Herkner Road near Traverse City West High School, and north into Leelanau County.

“Eventually, we hope to compete directly with Charter Cable and other providers of internet, phone and cable TV service,” Tribal Chairman Thurlow “Sam” McClellan, told the Enterprise this week.

“This is presenting us a very lucrative opportunity for the tribe and we’re very excited about it,” he said.

Charter, which in recent years has re-branded itself as “Spectrum,” is one of the largest telecommunications providers in Leelanau County, regionally, and throughout the U.S. A spokesman for the company could not immediately be reached for comment.

Currently, fiber optic cable is being buried underground by a subcontractor working for the tribe along M-204 in the middle of the county. It will extend north from M-204 along Macksey Road to Herman and Solem roads, then onto the tribal reservation in Peshawbestown.

Plans are also in place for the underground fiber optic cable to extend south along County Road 641 (S. Lake Leelanau Road and Bugai Road) to M-72 before it connects with cable already in place in Grand Traverse County. The project was halted in the fall because of seasonal weather, but resumed this week.

The Managing Director of the Leelanau County Road Commission, Dan Wagner, confirmed that a representative of the tribe’s Economic Development Corporation last month informed the Road Commission about the project. Wagner said he contacted a Road Commission attorney to determine whether the commission should issue permits to the tribe for the project.

He was told that not only can the Road Commission issue permits to the tribe, it must.

“A county road commission may not refuse a permit requested by a government entity for the installation of a facility or utility owned by that entity…” according to a law cited by the Road Commission attorney.

“As it turns out,” the attorney added in a memo to the Road Commission, “The Court of Appeals decided a case within the past two weeks that concluded that a federally recognized Indian Tribe is a ‘local government’ within the meaning of the Michigan Constitution.”

McClellan said the Tribal Council last year committed to entering the fiber optic market. It expects to spend $4 million to $5 million on the “underground” portion of the project.

McClellan added that fiber optic cable will eventually extend to Acme and the tribe’s Turtle Creek Casino in Grand Traverse County.

“This is just the initial phase of our project,” McClellan explained. “Once the underground portion is done, we will begin on the above-ground portion. Our next step will be to formalize a business plan, and we’re currently going after a professional group that will come in and help us get this project off the ground.”

McClellan said the fiber-optic cable will pass along M-204 directly by the Leelanau County Government Center, and the tribe hopes to become the county government’s internet, phone and cable TV service provider.

“We also hope to provide services to local schools, businesses and individual residential customers eventually,” McClellan said. “But we’re still exploring our options.”

Meanwhile, Leelanau County Road Commission officials are continuing to review the tribe’s plans to install underground fiber optic cable along county rights-of-way.

“Apparently, they’ve already secured permits from the Michigan Department of Transportation because work has already begun along the state highway (M-204),” Wagner said.

McClellan, who last week narrowly survived a recall attempt in a tribal Primary Election, has been an outspoken critic of some of the tribe’s Economic Development efforts. Notably, McClellan has expressed opposition to a project approved earlier this year by a bare majority of the Tribal Council to construct a new $55 million hotel and casino on the West Grand Traverse Bay waterfront. The fate of that project may rest with a tribal General Election slated for May 8 that will determine the future makeup of the Tribal Council.

“The numbers for the casino project just don’t add up,” McClellan said this week. “But the numbers for this fiber optics project are definitely adding up. We’re excited about it and we’re moving ahead.”

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outstanding, please finish

outstanding, please finish this asap