Praxis, however, concerned by lack of movement from LADWP
In the fiber optic world, it’s called “light up,” which is when a network’s first few basic strands begin to traffic the tiny laser beams that can carry immense amounts of data. Digital 395 isn’t ready to “light up” just yet, but Praxis executive Michael Ort briefed the Mono Board of Supervisors on May 3 on the status of the 600-mile broadband infrastructure project between Barstow and Reno, Nev.
Funded fully in August 2010, the first year involved setting up project offices and management, including one at each terminator end and a third located in-between in Bishop. The project has to be done by July 31, 2013, at which point federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding stops by statute. “Once we get approvals, we want to start work, which means getting issues resolved and plans in place ahead of time,” Ort said. D395’s prep work includes a complex mix of Environmental Assessments, rights of way negotiations between as many as 27 agencies (including up to seven Native American tribes), community outreach, engineering and lining up vendors for a variety of construction materials and services.
“It’s a little like trying to build an airplane while it’s headed down the runway,” Ort quipped. D395 currently has a limited staff, but Ort anticipates ramping up staffing in August and September, prior to what is hoped to be formal construction start.
No work can be actually started until all of the federal and state environmental work is completed, but in the meantime, node sites have been identified along the route for small, non-descript buildings that will house the electronics at strategic points. D395 will use 2.3 million feet of cable (estimated to cost $8 million) and an additional 9 million feet of conduit.
Many communications and wireless companies are interested in signing on as service providers. As many as 200 government and related agencies possibly looking to connect to the network when it’s finally online.
Only a handful of issues remain with Mono County, including determining the requirements for any nodes and towers, and interfacing with Public Works on installing conduit as part of paving work at Crowley Dam. Right of way and setbacks are expected to be fairly precise, with GPS technology providing accuracy to one foot or less.
Ort said a federal Finding of No Significant Impact and Mitigated Negative Declaration are expected by mid-October, which is an important milestone. The project legally can’t spend any construction money until the all the environmental work is completed and approved.
As part of that work, Ort outlined how Praxis is accommodating the needs of several endangered Eastern Sierra animal species. “The sage grouse is a concern in this area, but nothing we’ll build will impact the sage grouse, and we’re not getting any real pushback there,” Ort related. The desert tortoise, however, is a concern of the Department of Fish and Game and D395 has plans to install fencing to cordon off key habitats and thus prevent them from wandering out on the highway.
Ort said Praxis is, however, somewhat concerned about a perceived lack of momentum from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. He told the Board that LADWP has had a request to enter its land for more than a month. “This is the same land that’s open for OHV use, but we’re still waiting to get our archaeologists and researchers out there.” Ort said. Members of LA’s City Council said they’ll help “oil the machinery,” but failing that he might require the County’s assistance.
On a positive note, Ort was effusive about how much cooperation Praxis has received from the public sector. Typically those processes are designed to take time, require much public input and extensive reports, little of which D395 can afford on its fixed timeline.
“There’s a perception that [environmental legislation is tough] and the state is hard to work with,” Ort said, “but I’ve had great support from Sacramento and Caltrans in particular. I’m learning a lot about how the federal government works and there’s been some real innovation as to how processes are being constructed. It’s new, novel … one of a kind. There’s no real paradigm or model for this type of thing.”
Praxis is positioning D395 as a host for 4G data transmission, which Ort called “the next generation” of broadband. “This will support that gear and satisfy any last mile requirements for the foreseeable future,” he told the Board.
Eastern Sierra gets connected
The first phases of Praxis’ awareness outreach is already underway.
A series of Eastern Sierra Connect Community Meetings about Digital 395 are scheduled all this coming week at the following locations:
Monday, May 16: Edison Theatre, 100 College Parkway, Mammoth
Tuesday, May 17: Lee Vining Community Center, 196 Matly Avenue; Wednesday, May 18: Fire Training Center, 960 Poleta, Bishop (Note: East Line turns into Poleta a mile from Main St.)
Thursday, May 19: Whitney Portal Hostel, 238 S. Main St., Lone Pine
Friday, May 20: Crowley Lake Community Center, 58 Pearson Rd.
Note: All meetings are from 7-8:30 p.m., except Lone Pine from 6:30-8 p.m.