MONTVILLE — Approximately 25 residents turned out for a special town meeting Aug. 31 to vote on disbursing the recently received American Rescue Plan Act funds from Waldo County Commissioners.

Voters authorized the Select Board to award $20,000 of ARPA funds to the Southwestern Waldo County Broadband Coalition, a group consisting of five towns aimed at bringing affordable broadband internet to their towns.

Speaking at the meeting, Wilson Hess, SWCBC Freedom representative, said the initiative began a year ago with local town leaders who were concerned about access to broadband forming a coalition. 

Originally starting with a couple of towns, Hess said the group has now grown to five municipalities, including Montville, Freedom, Liberty, Palermo and Searsmont. 

Hess said the results from an online survey taken by approximately 400 people “basically said we are all pretty displeased with the internet service we have in our towns.” Working with Maine Broadband Coalition, nearly 500 people took online speed tests that showed the towns were classified as “unserved or underserved.”

Several members of the SWCBC, he said, met with county commissioners in July and encouraged them to invest ARPA funds in the broadband bucket. “We’re of the opinion that if we hadn’t been talking to them, they probably would not have made these funds available,” he said.

The coalition now plans to use the ARPA money to conduct a feasibility study. Once the study is done, Hess said, the coalition will get back to the towns to propose an implementation plan. No timeline was discussed at the meeting.

Montville residents also voted without discussion to “accept and expend for town purposes” any additional funds received under the ARPA designation. 

The Mills administration announced Aug. 25 a fiscal recovery program to distribute $119.2 million in federal funding from the ARPA to local governments across Maine. The funds are aimed at supporting a variety of economic recovery efforts, such as addressing the economic and public health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, replacing lost public sector revenue, or investing in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

According to a press release, the funds will be allocated in two parts, half this year and half next year. Estimated allocations for Montville show the town receiving two payments of $57,000 each over the course of a year.

Maine municipalities will need to request federal funding through a newly unveiled web portal at maine.gov/dafs/arpa/neuportal. For a list of eligible uses by expenditure category, visit memun.org/ARPA-Resources/ARPA-Resources-Eligible-Uses-by-Expenditure-Category.

At the special town meeting, voters also approved spending $60,000 from the unassigned fund balance for continued maintenance of summer roads. The total cost for the proposed work, including $20,000 for the road commissioner’s wages, is estimated at $92,600. 

Wood harvesting on Frye Mountain

In other town news, officials from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife met with the Select Board and residents Aug. 30 to discuss a lumber harvesting project on Frye Mountain planned for this winter. The harvesting will take place at the southern tip of the wildlife management area, and timber trucks will use a woodlot on Morrill Road, a dirt road, to access the site.

Officials estimate 130 tractor-trailers will haul logs to Sappi paper mill in Skowhegan, Kennebec Lumber in Solon and Robbins Lumber in Searsmont, among others. 

The money made from the harvest will help sustain other agency operations across the state. There will be no revenue-sharing between the municipality and the agency, according to officials.

The project will probably start after Christmas and be completed by mid-March, one official said. “We want the road to be hard,” he said, to be able to handle the truck traffic. This timeline is subject to change, depending on weather, and officials will monitor road conditions, so as to not create issues for the town.

According to officials, the timber harvest will aid in the declining condition of habitat at Frye Mountain.