CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The June 29 derecho storm and a U.S. Department of Commerce inspector general's audit have slowed West Virginia's $126.3 million high-speed Internet expansion project, but the state still expects to complete construction by February, according to the latest quarterly report to the federal government.
West Virginia has five months to finish the broadband project or risk losing unspent funds. The state has completed 56 percent of the project, which started in the summer of 2010.
West Virginia Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato said Thursday the state would meet the federal government's Feb. 13 deadline.
"The West Virginia project is still on track to be completed on time and within the original proposed budget," Gianato said.
In 2010, West Virginia received a $126.3 million federal stimulus grant designed to bring fiber-optic cable to more than 1,000 "community anchor institutions" -- schools, libraries, health clinics, 911 centers, county courthouses and other public agencies.
Last month, Gianato notified the National Telecommunications & Information Administration -- the federal agency that distributed the grant funds -- that the June 29 windstorm set back the broadband project by a month.
At the time, Gianato said the delay would pose "a challenge to ensure compliance with deadlines and grant completion," according to the quarterly report.
On Thursday, Gianato said the state has submitted a revised "mitigation plan," to make up for lost construction time, and the NTIA has approved it.
Frontier Communications, which is building the fiber network, said the company initially planned to complete construction by October, but now hopes to finish up by December -- "well ahead of the Feb. 13 deadline."
"The original mitigation plan reviewed and approved by the NTIA included a built-in three-month cushion to accommodate unforeseen events, such as the June 29 storm," Frontier spokesman Dan Page said.
Gianato also told federal grant officials that the state had to "redirect time and effort" after the federal inspector general started reviewing West Virginia's use of the $126.3 million in stimulus funds.
The chairmen of two U.S. House energy committees asked for the investigation after the Gazette published a series of stories about the state's purchase of $24 million in Internet routers with the grant money.