Ruston takes next step toward becoming internet provider; moves toward creating Power and Water District

Developer Mike Nichols talks during Monday’s Board of Aldermen meeting about his plans to turn Ruston’s old diesel power plant and waterworks site into a mixed-use residential and commercial property. (Photo by T. SCOTT BOATRIGHT/LPJ)

By T. Scott Boatright

The Ruston Board of Aldermen made the next step toward potentially being able to offer internet service for city residents and businesses during Monday night’s monthly meeting at City Hall.

Ruston’s alderman also during the meeting adopted an ordinance authorizing the publication of a notice of intention to create a Power and Water District for the city that if moved forward could eventually end up with the city levying a 1.75% sales tax within such a district.

That economic development district would consist of the city’s old diesel power plant sire and adjoining acreage bought by Monroe developer Michael Echols in 2019.

The city sold the site located on East Mississippi Avenue to Echols in August of 2019 for $337,000.

Echols wants to turn the plant into a mixed-use residential and commercial site. He told aldermen that he envisions a three-phase project that will ultimately include as many as 110 housing units, as well as retail and commercial space.

The name of the potential new district comes from the fact the site was once the city’s power plant and waterworks location.

Ruston’s aldermen also passed a motion to introduce an ordinance that could create a Power and Water District should it move forward.

Concerning the possibility of the city becoming an internet provider, in October of last year the city of Ruston began studying about potentially becoming an internet provider for city residents with CCG by conducting random telephone surveys of city residents to determine potential interest to existing providers available to residents here.

Then in April, Ruston’s aldermen hired the Keller and Heckman law firm based in Washington DC to help prepare the city to request the Louisiana Bond Commission for permission to bond out the project which is projected to cost $18 million.

During a public hearing on the matter held as part of the meeting, several residents voiced their frustration over the service of the main provider currently operating in the city — Suddenlink — and gave their support toward the city hopefully being able to offer them a better option.

On Monday night Ruston’s aldermen passed a motion to hire a national consulting firm to continue moving forward with the potential project at a cost of $7,500. Included as part of that motion was that a report on the matter be turned in by a consulting firm within 150 days.

Before asking aldermen to consider the proposal, Walker said he wanted to “manage expectations a little bit.”

“If the City Council agrees to move forward with this, it is not something that’s going to happen in 30 or 60 days, or 90 days,” Walker said. “It’s a long process. Just the complete buildout is a two-year project. So yes, we want to see this happen, but it won’t be overnight and it won’t be six months. It will take us a while. If it happens, there will be a lot of fiber-optic cable to be buried, and a lot of legal issues that will have to be taken care of.”

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