Leverett broadband project sees delays, progress

Last modified: Wednesday, November 21, 2012

As the six-month mark from Leverett’s approval of a municipal fiber-optic cable network approaches, the scope of the project is coming into clearer focus for town officials and other supporters involved in creating the town’s newest public utility.

Though the opening phase has been slowed by preparations to Leverett’s current infrastructure grid, key figures in the effort to bring broadband access to the town’s 1,800 residents are preparing to solicit bids for construction and maintenance of the network, which could begin early next year.

Members of the Advisory Broadband Committee, which was created after the vote in favor of the plan at the annual Town Meeting in April, reviewed 13 responses to the official Request For Information released by the town in September, which solicited input from network installation firms and service providers across the eastern United States.

“We’ve been studying the feedback we’ve gotten, which will help us to find interested parties and also guide our decision-making as we prepared to take on a contract,” said Peter d’Errico, who serves on both Leverett’s Select Board and the broadband committee.

Committee personnel are initiating the search for a contract to build the fiber-optic network even as negotiations between the town and existing service providers, as well as repairs to existing wires following Hurricane Sandy, are slowing the preparations for breaking ground on the project. Western Massachusetts Electric Co. and Verizon, the town’s current vendors, have been asked to perform “make-ready” maintenance on Leverett’s telephone poles in advance of adding new cable lines to the above-ground network, a project that officials estimate will extend into the new year.

“The make-ready process is usually time-consuming, and we expected that from the beginning,” said Richard Nathhorst, another broadband committee member. In addition to outfitting the poles for additional wires, service teams are also finishing cleanup from damages inflicted by the October storm, which left several Pioneer Valley communities without power as it passed through the area.

“The good thing is that the application and request phase on our end can happen concurrently with the make-ready work, so we’re trying to wrap up the planning for this by the time we’re ready to build,” he said.

Leverett homeowners already received an easement request in the mail along with their property tax bills last week, which they were asked to sign and return to the Town Clerk’s office. The form will give the town permission to install connection points between the town’s central grid and individual properties.

“It’s a necessary step; once we input the network itself, we’ll be able to go house by house and set up the last segment for each one,” d’Errico explained, noting a strong response to the request so far. “We’ve received tons of signatures back very quickly. We should be in good shape for that final step when we reach it.”

Broadband Committee members said that they hoped to use the information from the RFIs to draft an Invitation For Bids by the end of November.

Before breaking ground on the project with the new contractor, Leverett will issue an offer for an engineering and design consultant to oversee the construction phase and represent the town’s interests in planning the cable network.

“This is a bit of a lengthy process, but it’s important to ensure that we’re doing everything right,” d’Errico said.

The broadband committee holds open meetings every Thursday at 5 p.m. at the Leverett Town Hall unless otherwise posted.


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