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Two Tennessee Towns Celebrate Earth Day, Reliable Water and Sewer Service

Do you like to go swimming or fishing? Rivers and lakes are cleaner thanks to USDA water/sewer investments in rural communities.

On Monday, I joined Earth Day celebrations in the rural communities of Sparta and Monterey, Tenn.  Part of being good stewards of the Earth and our natural resources is making sure that we take proper care of waste and wastewater disposal.  The stories from Sparta and Monterey show how important this is.

At the White County Middle School in Sparta, children recognized Earth Day by planting trees to help the environment.  The celebration also marked the end of a major sewage problem in town.

USDA Town Meetings Draw Comments on Proposal to Help Utilities Finance Renewable Energy Projects

Earlier this month, Town Hall meetings at USDA headquarters attracted good commentary on a proposed rule that can serve as a way to transition to energy generation of the future. The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) held the meetings to hear from rural electric program borrowers, potential borrowers, and financial institutions on proposing rules that clarify how RUS finances renewable energy projects for both rural and nonrural consumers.

This proposed rule has several benefits. First, it will allow USDA to finance projects that current regulations restrict. It will also open the door to financing both smaller and renewable projects. It can have a positive impact on rural communities by strengthening investment in new markets, which will bolster economic development and create jobs. This proposed rule can provide a path for rural utilities to expand their energy portfolios, and transition from our reliance on fossil fuels.

USDA Provides Historic Funding To Create Jobs, Improve Electric Service in Virginia

Since its humble beginnings over 75 years ago, the Southside Electric Cooperative (SEC) in Virginia has provided reliable and affordable electricity to its 18-County service area located South of Richmond, the State Capital.

Yesterday marked a milestone for the electric coop with the announcement by Jonathan Adelstein, the Rural Utilities Administrator, of over $44.8 million dollars in guaranteed loan assistance. This will be the largest single loan and expansion project ever taken on by the cooperative.

“The guaranteed funding through the RUS Program will enable us to complete key projects that will improve reliability, customer service, and give us additional capacity to meet future load requirements which assist our local communities with economic development,” said Jeff Edwards, SEC President and CEO. He went on to say, “An exciting part of this expansion will be the implementation of Smart Grid Technology. This will allow for customers to actually monitor their power usage and help conserve electricity during peak times of the day.”

In USDA’s 150th Year, the REA’s Successor Continues to Have Impact on Rural South Dakota Communities

As USDA celebrates its 150 year anniversary; we remember many milestones such as the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) establishment in 1935.  In the 1930’s, only about 10 percent of rural folks had electricity while people living in town had 90 percent coverage across the nation.  With the assistance of REA funding, by 1942, nearly 50 percent of US farms had electricity, and by 1952 almost all US farms had electricity.

Earth Day Funding Celebration in Montross, Virginia

Speaking to a room full of happy citizens in Westmoreland County, Rural Utilities Service Administrator Jonathan Adelstein congratulated them on the new sewer extension project that will be a real game changer for their community. “I am proud to mark Earth Day 2012 with this partnership between Rural Development and the Community and it is infrastructure projects like this that ensures that rural communities have their basic needs met in terms of clean water and modern, up-to-date sewer facilities,” said Adelstein.   The ceremony highlighted the new $5.6 million dollar regional sewer extension project that will upon completion provide over 450 new homes and numerous businesses in the area with connectivity to the Coles Point wastewater treatment plant.

Also speaking at the event, Mr. Darryl Fisher-Chairman of the Westmoreland Board of Supervisor and local business owner said, “We would not be able to move forward in this community without this critical assistance.  We have several areas of the community where land just would not be suitable for individual septic systems to construct homes and businesses and this new extension will provide us viable options for the future of this region.

Distance Learning and Telehealth-Providing 21st Century Education and Health Care in Rural America

Yesterday, I joined local and state leaders at an event in North Carolina highlighting the Obama Administration’s drive to provide top-quality educational and health care opportunities to rural residents. I went to James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville, N.C., to highlight USDA funding that will enable the faculty to provide college-level and advanced placement courses to students in five high schools.  It’s one of 100 Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grants awarded by USDA Rural Development nationwide.

These grants, administered through the Rural Utilities Service, are in keeping with the spirit of remarks President Obama made in a State of the Union Address.  If we want this country to succeed in the 21st century, we must harness the potential of every young person in this country.  It’s an economic imperative that we have a highly educated, highly trained – and healthy – workforce. Distance learning and telemedicine technology can effectively eliminate the barriers of time and distance that often challenge rural areas – bridging great distances to provide quality educational and health care opportunities to individuals that are hundreds, even thousands of miles away.

Who Will Get the First Bath?

Recently, I had the pleasure to travel to the rural Alaskan communities of Kwigillingok, Kasigluk, and Pitkas Point.  The visit was made along with Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Administrator Jonathan Adelstein, Alaska State Director Jim Nordlund, and a few of our major program partners.  As with other trips, the site visits to these communities were a reminder of why the Rural Alaska Village grant program and other Rural Development programs are so vital to rural communities.

The water and wastewater conditions in these three villages and other Alaskan communities are staggering. Drinking water is hauled from local watering points, which clearly do not meet safe drinking water standards.  Wastewater is hauled by utilizing honey buckets.  The same path that kids play and walk to and from school, is the same route that individuals routinely walk with their five gallon buckets  of wastewater to honey bucket transfer stations.

Historic Stimulus Project to Extend Terrestrial Broadband Service in Alaska

It’s a bit boggling to imagine so much broadband technology could be woven into the far reaches of Alaska’s vast wilderness, but on August 25th it became a reality.  Representatives of the organizations and people of Southwest Alaska who are benefitting from this important project, including a variety of local, state and federal officials, met in Dillingham to mark progress on the TERRA-SW project.

When complete, TERRA-SW will make broadband available to more than 9,000 rural Alaskan households and nearly 750 businesses in the covered communities.  The project will also serve numerous public, non-profit, private community institutions and entities such as regional healthcare providers, school districts and other regional and Alaska Native organizations.  TERRA-SW will provide middle-mile terrestrial broadband service to 65 remote, rural communities in Bristol Bay and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta (Y-K Delta), including Bethel, Dillingham and King Salmon.

USDA-Ready to Assist America’s Rural Communities With State-of-the-Art Broadband Services

During his State of the Union address earlier this week, President Obama outlined a vision for the future that calls on America to “Out innovate, out educate, and out build the rest of the world.”  A crucial contributor to this effort, as the President recognized, is rural broadband.  USDA is funding the deployment of broadband systems across the country, and we want to help your community as well.

We Did It! Residents of Rural America Access Broadband Services Thanks to the Recovery Act and USDA

This fall USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) successfully completed its final round of grant awards under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act).  In the last year and a half, we’ve done more to bridge the digital divide for rural Americans than many ever thought possible.  The Recovery Act has unleashed an historic level of investment in rural high speed telecommunications infrastructure that will create new jobs, new services and new opportunities across the countryside.