Digital 395 is granted Mono, Inyo license agreements
Mono County’s Board of Supervisors further cemented its support of the California Broadband Cooperative (CBC), and the Digital 395 broadband project on Tuesday. During its regular board meeting in Mammoth, the Board reviewed a resolution approving a license agreement giving the project rights of way for fiber optic lines and other considerations.
As drafted and presented by County Counsel Marshall Rudolph, the resolution covers use of County land for node and anchor sites, plus it allows use of County rights of way for underground fiber optic transmission cabling. In addition, the agreement calls for waiver of license fees estimated at $8,691 in the first year of the License Agreement, and an estimated $204,345 over the 20-year term of the Agreement (based on a hypothetical CPI [Consumer Price Index] adjustment of 2.0% per year).
County staff time and permit fees associated with the Project’s construction are being donated as “in-kind” services on the County’s part.
The 583-mile D395 network will run between Carson City, Nev., and Barstow, Calif., providing cutting edge broadband service to the Eastern Sierra. The route mainly follows U.S. 395, and crosses through San Bernardino, Kern, Inyo and Mono counties in California, and Douglas and Washoe counties in Nevada. The service area contains 36 communities, and six Indian reservations. In addition to civilian areas, the region is host to two military bases: the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake and the U.S. Marine Corps’ Mountain Warfare Training Center in northern Mono County.
D395’s route consists of a main backbone and various spurs and “edge out” branches off of the main backbone. The “spurs” along the project route connect the main backbone to nodes within communities along the route. A node site is a certain point where small buildings with computer technology inside will clean up and boost the signal before sending it further on up the route. Anchor sites are points at which “last-mile” providers, such Verizon, Schat.net and others, will be able to distribute contracted amounts of bandwidth from the network.
The $110 million high-speed, high-volume fiber optic communications project is being funded via a mix of federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act dollars and California Public Utilities Commission grant money, and thus is subject to state and federal environmental review.
Rudolph said just about every Mono County department plays a part in D395,
be it handling encroachment permits, building permits, or issues relative to the Information Technology parts of the project.
Every county is providing sites for nodes, routes and so on, and the license agreement is seeking to consolidate all the various separate licenses and approvals into one 50-plus-page, consolidated agreement for various county properties. In some cases the rights are exclusive, in other cases not.
Digital 395 involves rights-of-way negotiations not only with the various county governments, but also separate agreements with entities such as the City of Los Angeles and other state and federal agencies.
The project will be built by Praxis, a Vallejo-based company specializing in building rural community infrastructure.
Praxis President and CEO, Michael Ort told supervisors that on Nov. 10, the CPUC voted 5-0 to adopt Resolution T-17347, a mitigated negative declaration of the CBC’s CEQA report.
Ort said that with 29 agencies all involved in the project, wildlife and animal concerns, especially during the construction phase, are being taken very seriously and have oversight from stakeholders groups and the Department of Fish and Game, among others. “We have been looking at everything from buckwheat in Nevada, to desert tortoises, sage grouse and even butterflies in California,” Ort said. “We’ve put numerous plans in place to take care of the animal life along the construction route, especially the tortoises and other burrowing creatures that could be directly affected by our work.” Ort said much of the groundwork would involve burying the cable between four and six feet below the surface.
He stressed that happening upon an archaeological site would change the route somewhat, and that the project is seeking to avoid those types of situations at all costs. Ort said D395 still essentially “hugs” U.S. 395, though the route has taken a detour or two during its evolution, in large part due to underlying property rights owners along Caltrans rights of way. That, he said, would have meant dealing with numerous agencies, whereas a few of the detours considerably simplified the agency involvement, saving money and time, both of which are valuable to D395.
ARRA funding covers $80 million of the project. The CPUC said it would make up most of the difference with $20 million. Remaining funding will come from private equity and grants. The counties along the route are simply asked to kick in staff time and other waivers.
Mono, Inyo and Kern are written into the bylaws as “Class A” members, with special rights, including having a director on the CBC Board, and other perks. The County is part of what’s being viewed as a public-private partnership, even though there is no formal “joint venture” as such in existence.
Rudolph defended the fee waivers as not being any sort of “gift.” D395 and the CBC are essentially classified as a “public utility,” and covered under an exception that the County calls “public purpose.”
Ort said he sees this agreement as another key part of the multiple-county “skin in the game” show of support, and that waiving the fees and streamlining the permit process will have its advantages to the counties in the long term. Sales taxes alone are estimated at between $1 million and $2 million annually, not to mention the $1 million in yearly property tax revenue that D395 is expected to generate. All that, he opined, far outstrips the County’s in-kind contributions and waiving of any upfront fees.
Earlier in the day, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors reportedly approved a similar agreement in a unanimous vote. Mono County Supervisors matched that by also unanimously approving its version.
“After three years, it’s great to be able to get to this point,” Rudolph said. Complimenting Rudolph and his staff, Ort jovially said, “I think we’ve made an information technologist out of Marshall.”
Ort said the project is currently lining up contractors, who are expected to begin work next spring. “There’s been a tremendous amount of support and critical analysis,” Ort summarized. “We have a solid project in front of us, and the timeframe and financial situation [is on track] to meet the schedule’s demands.” The project has a completion deadline of summer 2013.