SCABC introduces private partner

Published 7:45 pm Thursday, November 14, 2013

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal

The South Central Alabama Broadband Commission (SCABC) board of directors introduced a private partner Thursday to help them move forward with a “new” broadband project to serve eight south central Alabama counties.

Despite a “no confidence” resolution recently passed by the Lowndes County Commission, which called for the SCABC to dissolve itself, the SCABC board of directors met at Hayneville Town Hall Thursday to announce a public/private partnership with Oasis Construction Services Inc. of Roswell, Ga.

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At the meeting it was reported that Oasis is also partnered with G4S, a design/build/maintenance company.

The purpose of the partnership with the SCABC, according to the minutes of its last meeting, is to “design, finance, build and operate the SCABC next generation high-speed broadband network.”

Charlie King. Jr., chairman of the SCABC board of directors said, “Without the county’s (Lowndes County Commission) support, we’re moving forward because we are not moving forward for the board members of the county.” He said, “We’re moving forward for the people of the Black Belt counties, not them.”

He said the broadband network is needed in homes and schools.

Robert Harris, chairman of the Lowndes County Commission, who abstained from the no confidence resolution, said, “Each commissioner has their own thoughts and their own process and their own feelings.”
He said of fellow county commissioners, “I really don’t know what they were thinking or why they thought that way.”

Harris said, “The only thing I know is that broadband is needed here in Lowndes County. The citizens need it. We need it to help move industrial development forward, as well. And we need it for our school system.”

He said of other counties represented at Thursday’s announcement meeting, “Their people have confidence in them, and I have no reason to doubt their leadership.”

Present for the meeting were Louis Maxwell, chairman of the Macon County Commission, Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford, Ricky Powell, vice chairman of the Wilcox County Commission, David Daniel of the Hayneville Town Council, Mosses Mayor Walter S. Hill, King, Dr. Aaron McCall, managing director of the SCABC, and SCABC attorney Prince Chestnut of Selma.

In the audience along with Harris were Hayneville Mayor Kelvin J. Lawrence, former Hayneville Mayor Helenor Bell, Karl Bell, Josephine McCall of the Elmore Bolling Foundation and many others.

Dr. McCall said at a recent meeting in Chicago some of the government officials who were with the program that provided original grant for the original project said they were waiting for the SCABC to come back.

Majid Zibanejadrad, president of Oasis, said his company has $2.5 billion worth of projects worldwide.

He said work was underway to fund the new SCABC project. “We have 85 percent of the funding, but we are working on the other 15.”

McCall confirmed the SCABC is still seeking government funding on the back end of the new project.

“It is really interesting about this project, we are coming back with 85 percent private funding and then on the back end, at some point in time, if we can, we will ask the government help us come up with the 15 percent hat we need,” McCall explained.

Ford stressed to the new partners, “What you need to understand now is this is a public body represented by governmental entities. And we’re going to be using tax payers dollars.” He said that meant fiduciary accountability “to make sure those dollars are used for this project.”

McCall offered a word of caution to the public that “Rome wasn’t built in a day… We are introducing our partners to you today and there is real progress being made.”

He said, “We are now entering into a planning phase. This is not a continuation of the same project. We’ve got the same footprint; we got the same technology, however, we’ve got new players.”

He said, “We felt the need to bring them forth today let our community know that we are not sitting around… we are moving forward with real progress.”

Introduced to the public were Zibanejadrad, Louis A. Dini Jr., senior vice president and engineer for Oasis, Larry Morrow, a consultant with Oasis, and Robert Brenner of G4S, a design/build/maintenance company.

McCall confirmed there is some $1,183,224.43 in current liability to the SCABC from the original project. But he said, “It is money owed to the SCABC for the SCABC to pay the vendors that did work for us in anticipation of being paid by the grant. And when the grant went away they were not paid.”

He said the SCABC is asking Trillion Communications Corporation, the original grant recipient to cover that because everything “was either requested or ordered for us to do by Trillion.”

He said the SCABC has submitted invoices to Trillion, but that request is “still pending.”

When contacted by The Signal, Ralph E. Brown, CEO Trillion Communications Corporation, said, “The (original) project closeout is still underway. Because of this, I cannot comment at this time.”

The SCABC was originally formed to own and manage a broadband communications infrastructure designed to bridge the digital divide in South Central Alabama.

The original project to construct 2,200 miles of fiber-optic broadband network in Butler, Crenshaw, Conecuh, Dallas, Escambia, Lowndes, Macon and Wilcox counties was to be funded by a $59 million in federal grant and $27 million in matching funds.

While funding to grant recipient Trillion Communications was terminated in October of 2012, the SCABC has continued efforts to move a broadband project forward.