Community , Government

Pawhuska Village Committee declines proposed broadband tower project

Photo caption: A photo shows a view of Wakon Iron Hall from the street entrance on East Boundary in Pawhuska. Osage News File Photo

Citing concerns of criminal activity, transients and health risks to residents, the Pawhuska Village Committee is not interested in having a broadband internet tower built in the village as part of the Osage Nation’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act projects.

The Nation received more than $44.8 million in federal CARES Act funding and the Executive Branch launched a COVID Task Force to create an implementation plan for spending the money. As part of the plan, the Nation is proposing to use $3 million of the CARES Act funding to construct broadband towers in the Pawhuska area to improve internet access especially for those who work or attend school from a home computer or other electronic devices.

The Nation’s Information Services Department visited with the five-member Village Committee who considered the idea to build a tower within the village. On Sept. 21, the committee members stated their concerns in turning down the proposed tower project in a meeting with William Fenton, the operations manager for the Nation’s Information Services.

Marjorie Williams, village committee chairwoman, said she is concerned the broadband/ free internet opportunity would attract more criminal activity to the village, in addition to homeless individuals and vagrants, which is already an ongoing issue. Williams said she and the other village committee members receive reports of people squatting in abandoned homes and camping under the dance arbor in addition to other reports of burglaries, drug dealing activity, prostitution and stolen items.

“We’re not ready for it, I’ve got to protect my people out here, my elderly and my disabled,” Williams said of the proposed broadband tower. Fenton said he understood her concerns, noting “the last thing in the world we want to do is bring harm on any Osage or anybody.”

Committee member Fawn Cheshewalla said possible health effects to residents in the village’s close vicinity is a concern for her. “My vote is a ‘no,’ I just think that money can be spent in another manner to benefit this land or to benefit this Nation as a whole,” she said.

Fenton said he also researched health-related information on the impacts of broadband towers. “Places like the World Health Organization said there’s not enough information out there, there’s no evidence right now of health risks because it’s non-ionizing radiation. But I’m not here to convince you one way or another if you don’t want to do it. This was just something we’re trying to offer to the village,” Fenton said.

In the meantime, Fenton said other locations for broadband tower locations are being considered. “The idea behind the project to begin with was if people need to social distance and self-quarantine, they would have the ability to work from home or do school from home whether they work for the Nation or not,” he said. In a separate proposed project, Fenton said plans are underway to bring fiber optic cable to the Wakon Iron building to lay the groundwork for internet expansion without Wi-Fi.

Also, in recent Pawhuska village updates, Pete Bighorse Sr. is now serving on the five-member board as of August. Bighorse is filling the remainder of the term formerly held by Theresa Tinker Schutz, who resigned. Per the Pawhuska village constitution, the village committee, fills any vacancies for the remainder of the member’s two-year term.

Elected in November 2019, other Pawhuska Village Committee members are Williams, Cheshewalla, Cherokee Cheshewalla and Myron Red Eagle.