The Crossett city council last week gave its blessing to seek grants that could improve local Internet service and the Crossett Municipal Airport.

Mayor Crystal Marshall brought the Internet matter to the council, telling the members that approximately $27 million is available in grant funds for broadband improvements through Arkansas Rural Connect.

“Without a doubt rural communities are lagging behind in Internet infrastructure across our country, and Crossett is no exception. It causes issues with local businesses, students, our health community, our school system, our ability to recruit new business and citizens and more,” Marshall said.

“We are working to apply for this grant and have reached out to our school, hospital, chamber, economic development, our state legislators and even Congressmen Westerman to request letters of support for this initiative. 

“I believe all have agreed and we’ve already received a few of them including Congressman Westerman and the chambers. The proposed resolution we are asking council to consider is meant to serve as a tool to advocate for our community and strengthen Crossett’s application.”

Councilman Cary Carter said he would like to see the application submitted with the opportunity for more than one Internet Service Provider to be involved.

Marshall said that at the moment Windstream is the only ISP in Crossett’s census block that is approved for the program but that Crossett is seeking to submit additional applications with other providers.

“The benefit for us is the infrastructure in our ground,” Marshall said. “That is what we are lacking, the infrastructure to support the service.”

If the city receives the grant, it will come at no cost to taxpayers, she said.

Councilman C.T. Foster made a motion and Councilman Dale Martinie seconded that the council adopt a resolution in support of the application. It passed unanimously.

The other grants the council considered were connected to improvements at the Crossett Municipal Airport—Z.M. Jack Stell Field.

Airport Manager Todd Freeman told the council the airport is receiving an annual entitlement of $150,000 from the Federal Aviation Administration to go toward the replacement of the runway and taxiway lighting systems, which were last updated in 1994.

“The electrical cables and components are buried in the dirt,” Freeman said. “It is very common for the transformers to go out. In order to replace the transformer you literally have to dig it out of the dirt. I hate to say it is designed to fail but it almost was.”

The new system will address some of those issues. Because funding will come from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the funding to the Crossett Airport will be 100 percent without a match, Freeman said. 

The FAA required a resolution of support from the council before it could move forward, however, and the members adopted the resolution unanimously.

The second matter for the airport was a grant from the Arkansas Division of Aeronautics, which will allow the airport authority to replace the fueling system.

“Our tanks out there are very old,” Freeman said. “The filter vessel, the gauges on it don’t currently work for the jet fuel. I had it worked on a few months ago and the service technician was trying to make some adjustments and he made it start leaking and he almost couldn’t make it stop. It is past time for us to do something about it.”

The tanks are so old the records Freeman has at the airport do not record when they were installed, he said.

The other part of the system that needs to be addressed is the credit card processing machine. 

“We have the capability for self-service fueling for aviation,” Freeman said. “That is pretty important, especially for a small town airport like us.”

The ADA grant, however, is a reimbursement grant — meaning the work has to be completed and paid for first before the grant funds are released — which might cause a cash flow issue for the airport, he said. 

Freeman asked the council for permission for the airport authority to obtain a 90-day cash flow loan to pay for the improvements upfront. 

“We should be able to turn it around faster than that,” he said. 

Freeman requested that the loan be for the cost of half the grant, which comes to $72,384.30. Cnext Bank has agreed to finance the loan.

“The grant is guaranteed,” Freeman said. “We have the grant letter, that money is set aside for us.”

The airport director said he did not go to the Crossett Economic Development Foundation because of the investments the foundation has made in industry in the last year.

“Because of all the things they have done for industry in the last year they need all the funds they can have,” Freeman said.

The council unanimously approved the request.

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