Get the Daily News Digest in your inbox each morning. Sign Up

ARPA update: Lawmakers get reassurance on water projects, ask for alternatives on broadband

A panel of lawmakers on Thursday praised the Alabama Department of Environmental Management for its work distributing and tracking American Rescue Plan Act funds being spent on water and sewer projects.

The Legislative ARPA Oversight Committee also got an update on broadband infrastructure spending from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and asked it to explore possibly less expensive satellite Internet options, especially in rural Alabama.

The Legislature and Gov. Kay Ivey previously allocated more than $600 million in ARPA funds for water and sewer projects to be distributed by ADEM and more than $500 million was sent to ADEM to be spent on broadband expansion efforts.
Like all the more than $2 billion in ARPA funding the state received, the funds must be allocated by the end of this year and expended by the end of 2026 or risk the U.S Treasury Department taking the money back.

Last year, the ARPA oversight panel was concerned about agencies’ ability to spend the funds, especially on water, sewer and broadband infrastructure projects that require outside contractors and supplies.

Lance LeFleur, ADEM’s director, told the oversight committee the two rounds of APRA funding are being allocated to 509 water and sewer projects around the state and memorandums of understanding have been signed with most of the involved municipalities. About 50 MOUs are still pending and lawmakers encouraged ADEM to have a Plan B for those funds, should they not be able to move forward.

“I don’t want to miss the opportunity to put this money into use where it can be used by making that determination early on,” committee member Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne, told LeFleur, who said his department shared the concern.
The department selected the projects based on communities’ applications.

“We have more projects than we have funds available,” LeFleur said.

“Welcome to our world,” committee chairman and Senate General Fund budget committee leader Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, said.

Both Elliott and Albritton last year had concerns about the selection process and ability to get work done by the end of 2026. They were reassured by LeFleur on Wednesday about most of the funds being obligated and projects’ progress being tracked.

“I have a much higher level of confidence that this is going to work out,” Elliott said.

Rep. Andy Whitt, R-Harvest, also praised ADEM for the inclusion of smaller municipalities in the project funding.

“I thank you and I appreciate your staff for all their hard work,” Whitt said. “And let it be known that Sen. Elliott and I do agree on something.”

Whitt and Elliott were on opposite ends of the gambling debate in the Legislature during the session that ended last month.
LeFleur did say that inflation was increasing the price tag on some projects, but other ADEM infrastructure funds could make up the difference.

Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, said her concern last year was how the projects would get done when every state had infrastructure money to spend and there will be competition for crews and materials.

“Our strategy on the supply chain is to be first in line,” LeFleur said.

The committee had more questions for ADECA and the cost of broadband projects. Maureen Neighbors, leader of ADECA’s Digital Expansion Division, told lawmakers that about 33% of an about $82 million ARPA project to build “middle mile” broadband infrastructure. Other ARPA funds are being used on “last mile” projects to connect about 54,000 homes, businesses and entities. Elliott did the math and said that came out to a cost, including local match dollars, of nearly $6,000 per connection.

He asked if Starlink, a satellite-based Internet provider owned by Elon Musk, was considered.

“Is the department looking at alternative technologies that are much lower cost to implement, especially as we look at much higher costs per rooftop and as we get out in more rural areas,” Elliott said. The cost will get more expensive for more remote homes.

Neighbors said any company that meets the federal requirements for providers can apply for the ARPA funds in Alabama. But she said ADECA hadn’t sought out Starlink or other alternative providers’ interest.
The committee asked ADECA to explore alternative providers and report back later in the summer.

“Our obligation is to make sure that the money is used in the best way possible,” Albritton said.

Get the Daily News Digest in your inbox each morning.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Web Development By Infomedia