TwispWorks leads the discussion on what makes a healthy local and regional economy. We participate in a host of forums focused on the economic health of our communities including the North Central Washington Economic Development District, the Economic Alliance, the Okanogan County Tourism Council and the Winthrop and Twisp Chambers of Commerce.
From working with local and state government to keep the Smokejumper Base located in Winthrop, to working with businesses and concerned citizens to bring reliable broadband to under-served communities, we know that a healthy economy requires the infrastructure and environment for businesses to thrive and for families to make a living wage.
Rural Broadband and the Methow Valley
Methow Valley Community Broadband Report Summary
Overview: The Twisp Public Development Authority (PDA) completed a Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) sponsored broadband plan and submitted their final report to the CERB Board on March 15, 2021. In addition to a $50,000 CERB grant, matching funds totaling $16,667 were provided by Okanogan County and the Twisp PDA to complete the study. TwispWorks was contracted by the PDA in 2019 to facilitate the Methow Valley Broadband Action Team (BAT) and to direct the study which provides a detailed description of current services available, establishes a community vision for broadband and provides a roadmap for future broadband infrastructure development. Tilson Technologies was hired to conduct the study and summaries of the four reports provided by Tilson can be found below. A complete copy of the report is available by emailing a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Summary and Findings: Throughout this study, which spanned from January 2020 to March 2021, the Methow Valley BAT focused specifically on the area within the Methow Valley School District boundaries and chose to create a plan for a fiber to premise solution. Partnering with local utilities, ISPs, anchor institutions, organizations and residents in the Methow Valley, more than six hundred people participated in various aspects of the study. The need for enhanced broadband infrastructure in the Methow Valley to ensure public safety and enable remote work, learning and medicine was widely affirmed along with the desire to preserve the pristine environment and unique culture of our community. In the end, Okanogan County Electric Cooperative determined that broadband infrastructure development is outside of their scope and ability to scale. The Okanogan County PUD confirmed they are currently unable to develop infrastructure outside their electric service territory.
While funding for infrastructure is becoming increasingly available, a significant challenge is the absence of a qualified applicant for the funding. The Methow Valley BAT will continue to convene to identify qualifying projects within the Okanogan PUD service territory (which may extend beyond the original target area for the BAT study) as well as identify eligible applicants for expanded fiber to premise development. Local internet service providers have also expressed interest in partnering in future fiber and wireless infrastructure developments. This, combined with the rapid pace of development of satellite solutions, points to feasibility for enhancing broadband service in the Methow Valley. From the outset, we understood that this was going to be a long process with multiple solutions. Raising awareness of the need in the Methow Valley and providing a roadmap for future possible infrastructure development is a welcome step in the right direction on this road!
Feedback provided as a result of our collaborative work with the Okanogan County/Colville Confederated Tribe’s BAT efforts also resulted in the correction of inaccurate Form 477 filings, clearing a major hurdle and making our region eligible for future Federal funding opportunities. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the agency responsible for defining broadband. The metric they set forms the basis of determining whether the government can say that a household has access to broadband Internet. Today, that metric is 25 megabits per second download (25 Mbps) and three megabits per second (3 Mbps) upload. The incorrect reporting suggested households were served at 100 megabits per second download and 20 megabits per second upload. You can check your internet speed by taking the Washington State Broadband Office’s speed test.
Next Steps: Responding to the call for applications in Fall 2020, the Twisp PDA and Tilson Technologies worked with the Okanogan County PUD to apply for funding through the WA State Broadband Office. Although we ranked very high, the program was severely over-subscribed with over $80M in requests for $9M in grants and we were not funded for this project. In March 2021, we provided a list of ‘shovel ready’ projects, including the Carlton area and Lost River Road near Mazama, to the Washington State Broadband Office to be included for consideration with new funding available through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). We are also awaiting a decision on a funding request submitted to the EDA to help fund ongoing convening of the Methow Valley BAT and to hire grant writing resources to continue applying for infrastructure funding opportunities as they emerge. Stay tuned and keep in touch!
Methow Valley Business Models, Technical Model & Action Plan Milestones
Infrastructure, Design, Cost Estimate, Market Analysis & Funding Strategies
Broadband Availability, Gap Analysis, & Demand Assessment
Telecommunications Infrastructure Report
In January 2020, Tilson Technologies, a telecommunication company based in Maine, was contracted by the Twisp Public Development Authority (PDA) to conduct a Broadband Planning study for the Methow Valley. This study was funded through a state Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) grant, with matching funds from the Twisp PDA and Okanogan County, to assess internet service in the Methow Valley.
In February TwispWorks facilitated a series of meetings between Tilson, the Broadband Action Team (BAT) and Advisory Council, local stakeholders and community members. These meetings were designed to help inform Tilson’s first milestone of community engagement and visioning, policy review and providing an inventory of existing and developing broadband infrastructure. This detailed report will be coming soon, so check back often! You can read the Methow Valley News’ excellent coverage of the meetings below.
The Washington State Department of Commerce’s Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) has awarded the Twisp PDA a $50,000 grant for the Methow Valley Broadband Action Team (BAT) to identify areas in the Methow Valley that lack reliable broadband service.
According to the most recent statistics from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 25 million Americans do not have access to a broadband-speed connection to the Internet. The vast majority—more than 19 million people—live in rural areas. This means nearly 31% of rural residents in the United States are unable to take advantage of digital services and capabilities that are an everyday part of life for many urban residents. This gap, known as the “digital divide” means rural areas like the Methow Valley are at a disadvantage when looking at the global market place and access to information and residents have fewer opportunities to access services like telemedicine and online learning.
In 2018, TwispWorks convened a Broadband Action Team (BAT) made up of local government and community members who recognized the lack of reliable broadband in some areas of the Methow Valley were impacting the economic health and well-being of the community. Community input in the process has been part of each step, including community meetings and an online survey where hundreds of Methow Valley residents and businesses provided input on their broadband needs. The BAT has also worked with infrastructure providers including Okanogan County Electric Coop (OCEC), Okanogan County PUD and internet service providers.
CERB funding for the project consists of a planning study to develop a community broadband plan to identify the technical requirements to bring improved and expanded broadband to underserved communities in the Methow Valley. To secure the $50,000 planning grant, CERB required a grant match of $16,667 which has been secured from Okanogan County and the Twisp PDA, each providing 50% of the match. In addition to leading the work of the BAT, TwispWorks wrote the grant and will lead the oversight of the study, while the Twisp PDA will administer the grant award. Once the technical requirements are understood, the BAT will look at funding for the technical implementation to bring services to areas lacking reliable broadband.
Methow Valley Broadband Position Paper (2019)
authored by TwispWorks
Broadband Access in the Methow Valley
As a rural, mountainous, and remote community, the Methow Valley has limitations to broadband access. Not all residences have access to broadband, service provision is not consistent and the infrastructure to support broadband is not in place in all areas. However, because of technological innovation, a change in the political climate advocating greater broadband access in rural areas, incentives to broadband providers to expand their coverage and an interest from key stakeholders in our local community, we believe now is an opportune time to work to improve broadband access in the Methow Valley.
FEBRUARY 2019 UPDATE
In the United States, 312 million people, or 92% of the population have access to broadband Internet. According the most recent statistics from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 25 million Americans do not have access to a broadband-speed connection to the Internet. The vast majority—more than 19 million people—live in rural areas. That means almost one third of the rural US population does not have access to broadband. This lack of access can put unnecessary constraints on education, health care, public safety, business and many other critical services we rely on for a healthy community and economy. Many Methow Valley residents report being cut off by a total lack of service or inadequate bandwidth, unable to take advantage of digital services and capabilities that are an everyday part of life for many urban residents.
Over the past year, TwispWorks and the local Broadband Action Team have been exploring this challenge in the Methow Valley. A recently completed study (you can read the full study below) conducted with Partners for Rural Washington began a deeper exploration of the issue. Recognizing this challenge is not unique to the Methow, recent meetings with Perry Houston, Okanogan County Planner, the Okanogan County Commissioners and Ernie Rasmussen representing the Colville Confederated Tribes (CCT) helped us focus on this common challenge in our county. Our next step is to apply for Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) planning grants to further evaluate our current service area map and establish a plan for underserved areas. TwispWorks, through a contract with the Twisp Public Development Authority, will submit the grant application on May 28. The CCT, led by Ernie Rasmussen and Okanogan County, with help from Roni Holder-Diefenbach, Executive Director of the Economic Alliance, will make separate applications that address the unique geographical and community needs across our vast county. Ernie, Roni and Don will continue to meet throughout the project to ensure an integrated county-wide solution.
AUGUST 2018 UPDATE
Because reliable, high speed internet plays such a vital role in the economic health of our valley, TwispWorks has identified rural broadband internet as a top priority advocacy issue and has been working to improve access for all residents. In the Spring of 2018, TwispWorks began leading the discussion convening meetings between our local internet service providers, governments and interested citizens.
The Partners for Rural Washington (PRW), through a grant from Communities of Concern, has teamed with TwispWorks, Okanogan County and the town of Twisp to perform a valley-wide, rural broadband internet needs assessment.
Using information gathered through community input in the form of a survey conducted in late summer 2018, PRW will provide a written report outlining the possible next steps (and cost estimates) for enhancing broadband service in our rural community. This grant funded work is being done at no cost to the towns or county and you can read the Memorandum of Understanding between the Partners for Rural Washington and Okanogan County and Twisp at the end of this article.
Over 13% of Methow Valley residents work remotely and rely on the internet to earn their livelihood. Every day, valley businesses rely on the internet for marketing and financial transactions. Students rely on the internet to complete assignments and parents actively monitor their progress through the internet. Here in the Methow Valley, we are fortunate to have great, local internet service providers who are committed to quality and customer service. But it’s no secret that some valley residents either do not have the service that they require or are unaware of how to get the service that they want. With input from area experts, elected officials and community members, we’ve created this roadmap to help achieve this ambitious goal:
- Assemble a team to develop a community broadband vision;
- Facilitate a planning process to understand community broadband needs;
- Perform a valley-wide needs assessment and identify gaps in service;
- Evaluate and chose appropriate technology and service options;
- Create a broadband plan;
- Implement a community led plan;
- Identify funding opportunities;
- Complete identified infrastructure improvements as necessary.
North Cascades Smokejumper Base
FEBRUARY 2020 UPDATE
On a recent visit with Smokejumper Base Manager Daren Belsby and one of the original North Cascades Smokejumpers, Bill Moody, we looked at plans for a new multipurpose building that could become a reality in 2021. Later this month, the USFS Fire Facilities Engineer will review the plans which are 95% complete. Final modifications will bring the design phase over the finish line and move the project to the next milestone – requesting funding from Congress to complete construction of the 17,000 sf facility.
Currently, the North Cascade Smokejumper Base is the top ranked project in USFS Region 6 and has strong support from Representative Newhouse and Senator Cantwell. Project funding will allow the three buildings currently in the “obstacle free zone” to be removed and replaced by the new structure, meeting FAA regulations and clearing the way for a taxiway where the current buildings stand. At this stage we’re ‘clear for takeoff’ with this project and we’ll check in again when appropriations are complete.
JULY 2019 UPDATE
Did you know this is the 80th Anniversary of Smoke jumping? Did you know that the North Cascades Smokejumper Base is considered the birthplace of smoke jumping? Here are ten more things you might not have known about smokejumpers. We’re happy to congratulate the base and celebrate this anniversary milestone with an update on efforts to retain the base in Winthrop.
After a few revisions were made to contain the cost of the project, comply with FAA regulations, and meet the most critical needs of the men and women who work at the Winthrop base, the project is nearly ‘shovel ready’. Stakes and ribbon outline the location of the site of a new 16,000 sq. ft. parachute loft and administration structure. The project remains one of the Pacific Northwest Region’s top priorities. The plan would include removal of the existing quonset hut parachute loft and the office administrative building which, by current FAA standards, are located too close to the active runway. Pending continued “priority status”, funding for the project would be included in the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 budget allocation and construction of the upgrade could start as early as spring 2021.
We’ll keep our ear to the ground and provide the next update as the US Forest Service budget allocation process gets underway.
SEPTEMBER 2018 UPDATE
Unfortunately, we‘re all too aware that fire season is upon us again. With the Crescent Mountain and McLeod Fires still actively burning and the thick smoke from 500+ fires in British Columbia, we are constantly reminded that summer is fire season in the West. Despite all the doom and gloom, there are plenty of reasons to be thankful!
As a reminder, in April TwispWorks hosted and facilitated a meeting between the Pacific Northwest Regional Forester, Jim Peña along with many other Forest Service staff, and the NCSB Regional Partners (our working committee of locally elected officials and area experts). The purpose of the meeting was to establish multi-jurisdictional working partnerships to facilitate the timely advance of the USFS’ stated objective to maintain the North Cascades Smokejumper Base in Winthrop.
Following that meeting, the Region listed NCSB is the #1 priority for aviation infrastructure improvements and received funds for a site proposal. As of early August, the site proposal went out to bid and the contract has been awarded to CTA Architects Engineers; the contract coordination work is starting between the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and the selected contractor. The site proposal will provide a detailed suite of options to remove the three buildings that are currently in the Object Free Area of the runway and reconstruct them elsewhere on the base.
I’m happy to report that John Doran was able to donate about $200 to the National Smokejumper Association from the proceeds of the 3rd Annual ‘Keep Our Rivers Clean and Our Valley Green Music Festival’; this year’s theme was Support the Base. Unfortunately, a large afternoon thunderstorm kept some folks away on June 16th, but for those who turned out the weather improved throughout the evening and music, food and drinks were enjoyed! Rob Allen, the Okanogan-Wenatchee Fire Staff Officer, attended and gave an official update from the Forest Service. He reiterated that NCSB is the #1 priority for the region for aviation infrastructure improvements.
And finally, on August 10th Congressman Dan Newhouse was invited to attend a joint Winthrop and Twisp Chamber of Commerce meeting; the Chambers wanted to thank the Congressman for his support of NCSB, the Headwaters Campaign and his recognition of the Methow Valley Ranger Distract as a priority area under the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act. Ashley Thrasher was able to speak on behalf of TwispWorks and the NCSB Regional Partners to thank the Congressman for his support of the Smokejumper Base.
Check back in soon to hear more updates, or feel free to email Ashley for the latest information at email@example.com or call her 997-3300 ext. 10.
APRIL 2018 UPDATE
TwispWorks continues to lead the effort to keep the North Cascade Smokejumper Base (NCSB) in Winthrop. Earlier this year we drafted a letter on behalf of the commissioners to the USFS Regional Forester, Jim Peña, requesting a meeting to support the Forest Service’s effort to obtain the funding necessary to keep the base operational. We are happy to report that Jim Peña accepted our request; he and additional Forest Service staff will be meeting with our county commissioners and mayors on April 24th (time TBD) at TwispWorks. This meeting is open to the public, but there will not be time for public comments.
TwispWorks is pleased to host the meeting on April 24th at the Education Station. With our rich history as the former site of the Twisp Ranger Station, it is fitting that the Forest Service will once again be utilizing this space! TwispWorks has been leading the preparation for this meeting because this issue directly supports our mission of increasing the economic vitality of the Methow Valley. The North Cascades Smokejumper Base is integral to the economy, culture, and disaster preparedness of the Methow Valley. Providing sixteen permanent jobs, multiple contract positions and nearly $800,000 of direct annual Federal spending, the base supports many local families and, by extension, our whole community.
In other news, the North Central Washington Economic Development District (NCWEDD) selected the retention of NCSB in Winthrop as their #1 priority for 2018. Thank you NCWEDD! With this classification, we receive assistance with researching and writing grants and administrative assistance from NCWEDD.
And finally, mark your calendars for June 16, 2018. John Doran is hosting the 3rd Annual ‘Keep Our Rivers Clean and Our Valley Green Music Festival’; this year’s theme is Support the Base! This is a great opportunity for you to listen to some music, eat and drink some local goods, and show your support for keeping the Smokejumper Base in Winthrop.
Thank you to all the North Cascades Smokejumper Base supporters! Your recent letter to the Forest Service on the importance of keeping the North Cascades Smokejumper Base in Winthrop made a difference. On August 15, the Forest Service released the results of their Preliminary Project Analysis on base location alternatives. The analysis found that Wenatchee and the Methow Valley ranked nearly equal, but moving the base from Winthrop would have a “significant socio-economic impact of moving jobs from the smaller communities of Winthrop and Twisp.” Read the full report. →
Our work is not over! Unless the Forest Service can find the $5.2 million needed to upgrade the base in the next 2-3 years, they will recommend the base move to Wenatchee. This means a strong community voice calling for investment in the base will be needed! It will take all of our voices to keep the base at its historic location in the Methow Valley!
The North Cascades Smokejumper Base is integral to the economy, culture, and disaster preparedness of the Methow Valley. Providing sixteen permanent jobs, multiple contract positions and nearly $800,000 of direct annual Federal spending, the base supports many local families and, by extension, our whole community.
Its location on the edge of some of the steepest and most inaccessible terrain in the Northwest has helped ensure a rapid response to devastating fires such as the ones that impacted the Methow Valley in 2014 and 2015. And with over 3,000 annual visitors, the base’s unique heritage as the birthplace of smokejumping is a pillar of local tourism.
Currently, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is completing a Preliminary Project Analysis to study the costs and benefits of updating the current base near Winthrop or moving it out of the Valley.