Roger Swenson, an engineer with the iFiber project, inspects posts that mark placement of iFiber cable at the entrance to the Savanna Business Park, seven miles north of Savanna.
Economic development efforts in the Savanna-Hanover region received a significant boost with the recent signing of an agreement between the Illinois Fiber Resources Group (iFiber) and the Jo-Carroll Depot Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA).
The agreement allows iFiber to connect the business park formerly known as the Savanna Army Depot, in addition to acquiring rights to already existing cable and infrastructure. iFiber also has acquired access rights to a telecommunications plant within one of the site’s buildings. iFiber is working with CenturyLink to continue to provide traditional services to businesses that desire that service.
The Savanna Depot Park is about seven miles north of Savanna, located on IL 84 between Savanna and Hanover (20 miles north of the Thomson prison).
“Bringing enhanced fiber optic cable to the site will expand the Local Redevelopment Authority’s ability to attract new business ventures to the Savanna Depot Business, Industry and Technology Park,” said John L. Lewis, Chairman of iFiber’s board of directors.
“When the Army Depot shut down in 2000, it was a huge blow to the area’s economy. Having high-speed broadband opens the door for the LRA to lead economic development opportunities to help rebuild the region,” Lewis said.
The LRA was established by an intergovernmental agreement between Jo Daviess and Carroll counties to redevelop the former Army Depot. A Memorandum of Agreement was signed in 2003 between the LRA and the Army for transfer of nearly 3,000 acres under an economic development conveyance. The property is being transferred as it is cleaned of its contamination.
According to LRA executive director Mara Roche, the Savanna Depot Park has opportunities for all types of businesses—from technology, research and development and sales, to industrial, rail and agriculture related businesses.
“This agreement will certainly help boost economic development in an area that is in need,” she said.
The Savanna Army Depot, located on 13,000 acres of land adjacent to the Mississippi River, opened in 1917. It was closed by an act of Congress realigning Army bases in March 2000. In its heyday it was home to the Defense Ammunition Center and School and the U.S. Army Technical Center for Explosive Safety, which was responsible for training, testing, safety and quality assurance of all conventional ammunition items.
Only 3,000 acres of the 13,000 depot site will be transferred to the LRA. So far the Army has only transferred 1,000 of those acres. Most of the land that can be redeveloped has been sold or is under contract to companies for development of new business.
Because of its use as an ammunition testing facility, the property has contamination issues, i.e. heavy metals, explosives, small arms ammunition and debris, projectiles, etc. Redevelopment of the depot is further complicated as it is also home to some threatened and endangered plants and species and archaeological sites.
Roche said several businesses have moved into the depot and are filling up some vacant buildings that once housed the depot’s operations, its officers and enlisted soldiers, and other munitions functions.
iFiber’s enhancement of broadband to the Savanna Depot Park is among other incentives attracting businesses to the area. Others include its location in a foreign trade zone, an enterprise zone which provides tax incentives, properties below market rate prices, an interchange with the BNSF Railway, and the presence of a Port District.
Like other projects across the nation that are part of a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant, iFiber is a middle-mile network. It is charged with connecting Community Anchor Institutions (CAIs)—schools, libraries, community colleges, public safety agencies, municipalities, public service and healthcare organizations only.
Throughout its 900-mile network spread across nine Illinois counties, iFiber is meeting the BTOP grant’s mission by serving 70 communities. Connection speeds of up to 10 gigabits will be available to about 520 participating CAIs once the iFiber project is complete by August 2013.
“It is important to note that while the $68.5 million BTOP grant does not provide enough funding for iFiber to reach every community in this initial phase, it prepares the region for the future,” said Lewis.
“iFiber will work with existing providers in the region to build out and expand its network to provide service to communities not covered by the grant. iFiber also will be partnering with local and regional ISPs to provide last-mile service to businesses and individual homes,” said Lewis.
In September 2010, Northern Illinois University (NIU) as the fiscal agent, received the BTOP grant to deploy the iFiber network to leverage broadband technology for improvements in rural education, economic development and public safety. iFiber was established as a not-for-profit entity in January 2011. Counties included are Boone, Carroll, JoDaviess, LaSalle, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside and Winnebago.
The iFiber Board includes representatives from NIU, LaSalle County, North Central Illinois Council of Governments, the City of Rockford, Boone County and Blackhawk Hills Regional Council
For years, NIU and its Regional Development Institute have played a leading role in advancing broadband connectivity throughout Illinois. One of NIU’s initiatives includes active involvement in two BTOP grants—iFiber and the DeKalb Advancement of Technology Authority (DATA).
It also developed NIUNet, a high-speed fiber-optic network built by NIU that connects the region to the world while enhancing academic research and bolstering economic development. NIUNet is a roughly 175-mile fiber optic loop throughout the western Chicago suburbs and greater northern Illinois region, consisting of both newly constructed segments and previously unused leased underground fiber. It is a joint effort of NIU’s Information Technology Services and Regional Development Institute.
“The agreement with the Jo-Carroll LRA will help us sustain a fiber optic loop in the northern Illinois area, which is critical to its security and reliability,” said Lewis.