Eagle-Net Alliance, a Colorado intergovernmental entity, has had its broadband stimulus project halted because of questions about its documentation – and has only a few days to pull together what would appear to be a large amount of paperwork to try to correct the situation.

Eagle-Net Alliance won a $100 million broadband stimulus award from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to create a broadband network to connect more than 230 community anchor institutions in the state.

According to a letter sent to Eagle-Net Alliance yesterday by the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, ENA failed to consult with NTIA in advance on changes in its network design, putting it in violation of the terms of an Environmental Special Award Condition and therefore ENA is in “material noncompliance with the terms and conditions of its award.”

The situation came to light in a response that ENA made when the NOAA put ENA under a corrective action plan to address NTIA’s concerns about “certain programmatic and financial issues surrounding ENA’s award.” That response is still under review, according to the NOAA letter.

Since the concerns about changes to ENA’s network plan came to light, ENA has provided the NTIA with supplemental Environmental and Historic Preservation (EHP) documentation but NTIA has “identified deficiencies” in this documentation that warrant further review to “determine what actions are necessary to mitigate any risks relating to EHP compliance.”

According to the NOAA letter, the NTIA has an ENA site visit planned for next week and in the letter, the NOAA tells the ENA that it should submit the following information prior to that visit:

  • A revised project description and map that includes all previously [sic] and proposed project modifications
  • A project schedule illustrating all remaining EHP actions, interdependencies between actions and critical paths for completing the project in the performance period
  • A current status, including any supporting documentation, of consultations with several other organizations including federally recognized tribal nations
  • A current status, including any supporting documentation, of any permits and/or licenses required by relevant federal entities including the FCC, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Forest Service (USDA-FS), the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

This may be just the beginning of additional steps that ENA may be required to take. The NOAA letter refers to this information as an “initial” submission and states that after reviewing the submission, the NTIA will provide “further guidance to ENA on the actions that will be necessary to be in compliance” with its EHP requirements.

Until further notice ENA is required to “cease all project deployment work immediately.” The letter also notes that if ENA fails to provide a revised corrective action plan to address all of NOAA’s and NTIA’s concerns, “additional enforcement action may be taken against the award.”

NTIA concerns about ENA’s project include:

  • The adequacy of en environmental assessment upon which the NTIA issued a Finding of No Significant Impact
  • Completion of a consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Completion of consultations with the State Historic Preservation Office and appropriate federally recognized Native American tribes
  • Demonstration that the project properly secured all permits required from other federal agencies, including but not limited to the FCC, BLM, USDA-FS, BOR and BIA.

Telecompetitor has heard from numerous broadband stimulus winners about the challenges of obtaining environmental approvals, which have been the gating factor for many projects. Perhaps ENA’s experience will serve as a cautionary tale about the importance of fully complying with those requirements, however onerous they may seem.

ENA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Telecompetitor. We will update this post if and when we hear back from them.

UPDATE- December 10

ENA provided the following statement in response to our inquiry:

Yesterday, EAGLE-Net Alliance was instructed by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) to temporarily suspend current construction activity while we provide them additional information about our project. We take this very seriously and are working closely with the NTIA to provide this information in order to resume construction as quickly as possible.

Our current customers and community anchor institutions will not be impacted. Although construction has been temporarily postponed, it was already winding down for the 2012 build schedule. Our non-construction related operations will not be affected.

This suspension is about satisfying all of NTIA’s requests for information. To fulfill NTIA’s requests, we have been and will continue to provide updated project information to finalize all compliance requirements.

EAGLE-Net is working diligently to get construction started as soon as possible.

We will provide more information as it is received and we remain totally committed to EAGLE-Net’s success.