The green on the MMU map shows where it’s ready to plug into the system. Areas with no shading require more than two splices or no fiber has been installed yet.

MARSHALL —  The roughly $10 million dollar project to expand high-speed fiber internet to outlying areas of Marshall and eventually to most of Saline County continues, even though the effects of the pandemic have made progress move a bit slower. Jeff Bergstrom, general manager of Marshall Municipal Utilities, says it’s a two-part process — first utilizing a $1.1 million USDA loan-grant, north of town.

“We’ve already started to work on U.S. Highway 65 north of town. I think we’ve pulled a mile or two of fiber (optics) and they are working on framing poles, where we do have easements,” Bergstrom says, as his agency continues to obtain more easement permissions from land owners.

“The first grant, we’re looking at a two-mile radius of the Marshall. The second grant, we’ll be able to cover a pretty good portion of the county,” he says. That includes internet service to Marshall junction where Saline County Commission oversees a water line extension project to the I-70/U.S. 65 exit for future economic development. On Thursday, Southern Commissioner Monte Fenner says water line work is about half complete.

The second USDA grant, awarded to MMU last October, is for $7.5 million. The utility had to put in $2.5 million of its own funds to receive the 75 percent grant, he says.

Bergstrom says MMU is completing bid documents for installation of the fiber optic cable. Delivery times for materials for the projects have caused some delays.

“One thing we are seeing is extended lead times on fiber itself,” he says. “I think we’ve had some materials ordered in June that we were supposed to have in already.”

The demand for better internet connectivity for employees and students has clearly been heightened amid the pandemic, he says.

Bergstrom says he hopes to have the project completed in 18 months — if there aren’t additional delays. He’s says his agency is becoming more adept at navigating USDA paperwork and guidelines.

“We’re certainly excited about this. We’re really getting close,” he says.