Rural Oregon coastline
The USDA approved $8 million for broadband, sewer and water projects in rural Oregon. (Photo by Travel Oregon)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded more than $8 million to improve broadband, water and sewer services in Lane, Polk, Sherman and Wasco counties.

The four projects, announced in December, are part of more than $5 billion in agency loans and grants designed to give people in rural America access to high-speed internet, clean water and dependable electricity.

More than one-third of the money granted to Oregon – $3 million – will go toward a fiber optics project in rural Lane county. 

“That’s quite a big deal for us,” said Jill Rees, acting director of USDA Rural Development in Oregon. “It’s going to hit some remote areas that were difficult to cover in the past.”

The money will pay for installing fiber along 22 miles of Oregon 36 which runs between Mapleton and Junction City in the Willamette Valley, Rees said. The project will benefit the Triangle Lake Charter and Mapleton school districts along with a community center.

Right now, the community has access to relatively slow internet, with download speeds of less than 8 megabits per second and upload speeds of about 0.7 megabits per second. When the project is finished, residents will be able to download material from the internet at 25 megabits per second. The upload speed will be 3 megabits per second.

“This is going to significantly upgrade what they can do,” Rees said. “Broadband access is probably one of the most powerful tools that we can provide to rural Oregonians to help them increase their potential for economic development, employment opportunities, education and health care.”

About 125 people will benefit by receiving computers and access to free internet for at least two years at a community center. Rees said fiber will be run to nearly 50 households in an underserved area where the median household income is 33% less than the state’s average, which is just over $45,000.

The other grants and loans announced are:

• Biggs Service District in Sherman County will use a $898,000 loan and $290,000 grant to install a water line to serve all district users and provide water for fire protection. The district also will use the money to buy two private wells and upgrade them as a backup water source.  Sherman County Judge Joe Dabulskis commented on the project, saying that “clean water in Biggs Junction will not only affect the lives of the locals but the thousands of travelers that stop there every day.”

• The city of Dufur in Wasco County was granted a $2,442,000 loan and $1,625,000 grant to make sewer system improvements for its community of about 600 people. The project will expand storage, improve treatment and and make upgrades to help conserve water and support the community’s planning efforts.

• Falls City in Polk County received a $30,000 grant for a preliminary engineering report to guide officials in improving the city’s sewer system, which needs upgrades.

The money comes in addition to $5 billion that’s headed towards Oregon as part of the infrastructure package that was signed by President Joe Biden in November. More than $3 billion of that is earmarked for roads and highways, $268 million will go towards improving bridges and $747 million is for public transportation. The state also stands to receive $529 million for water infrastructure, $39 million to mitigate wildfires and $100 million to expand broadband access in rural areas.

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