Wahzhazhe Connect completes first portion of construction

Russ Tallchief/Osage Nation Communications

Wahzhazhe Connect, the Osage Nation’s broadband department, last week was in the process of wrapping up its first construction project in the program’s multi-year broadband expansion funded by grants totaling $54.5 million from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program and ReConnect3 from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The Pawhuska Senior Housing neighborhood was in the final stages of completion as construction partner, Gulf Shores, added the final equipment to the housing units. The contracted engineering design firm, ACRS, and Wahzhazhe Connect were conducting their final inspections, working closely with the Osage Nation’s Construction Manager, Brandon Wallace, to make sure the neighborhood was clear of remaining rock, dirt, and debris from areas where boring and trenching were required.

“The residents in Pawhuska Senior Housing have been wonderful to work with,” said Dr. James Trumbly, director of Wahzhazhe Connect. “We are grateful for their hospitality and patience as we broke ground on this major construction project in their neighborhood. As this was our first of many projects, we learned a great deal from the feedback from the residents that will benefit the project and the residents in our future projects.”

Preparation for the second construction project was underway in Fairfax Senior Housing. Wahzhazhe Connect staff and contractors are working in consultation with Fairfax city officials to identify and mark utility and other telecommunication lines buried throughout the neighborhood to help avoid hitting unseen lines underground, which could interrupt service to the neighborhood.

“In any construction project, there is always a risk of hitting underground lines,” says Drew Tiger, the project manager for the fiber-to-the-home portion of installation. “Sometimes underground lines are not recorded by previous construction projects, or not accurately identified, or the records are outdated. But we will take every precaution to avoid hitting underground lines and will repair any damage immediately.”

In preparation for construction, Wahzhazhe Connect staff offered presentations during public dialogues with residents held on April 18 at Fairfax’s Title VI building. Joined by ACRS Resident Engineer Kyle Giblet, staff members shared expectations about how construction will impact the neighborhood, timeline for completing the project, and ways residents can communicate with the project with any comments, questions, or concerns during construction.

During the Fairfax town meeting on May 1, Dr. Trumbly formally requested permission to proceed with construction in the neighborhood. Town officials granted permission for construction, with Wahzhazhe Connect committing to working closely with Mr. Hobie Robertson and the public works department during construction.

Construction was to resume in the neighborhood this week, with field technician trainees returning to the field along with construction contractors. Field Technician Trainees have completed the first round of classroom and field training, which will be followed by additional classroom and field training later this summer focused on aerial construction.

After construction in Fairfax Senior Housing is completed in the next few weeks, construction is scheduled to begin in both Pawhuska and Grayhorse Indian Camps.

Photo Caption: Danny Mackey, at right, Wahzhazhe Connect broadband field technician trainee, assists Miguel Torres of Gulf Shores Construction with boring equipment.