Town nixes fiber-optic conduit deal with utility district
The Town of Truckee tangled the Truckee-Donner Public Utility District’s plans to purchase three fiber-optic cables at cost from a telecommunications company, when it rejected the PUD partnership proposal 5-0 in its meeting Sept. 16.
The TDPUD Board of Directors voted to approve the draft agreement last week with the Town of Truckee to purchase three conduits at cost value from FiberComm Communication, a company that has a long-haul fiber-optic project going through Truckee.
Williams Communications, which is owned by FiberComm, is currently constructing a fiber-optic line from Salt Lake City to Sacramento. TDPUD General Manager Peter Holzmeister said when construction reaches Truckee, the company will have difficult choices to make on how to route the line through town. Williams Communications has proposed that if the utility district provides routing guidance, then they would lay two empty conduits through the town for free. The district would have then have the empty ground pipes to use in the future.
The district recently realized they had the opportunity to purchase in agreement with the Town of Truckee three additional conduits. The cost of the conduits in joint venture with the town to the district would not exceed $250,000.
The board was faced with a tight timeline in making a decision. It learned at last week’s meeting that construction for the project was already under way and completion was scheduled for mid-October.
District staff identified the following strengths in acquiring the conduits:
– Enhances options for sale or lease of fiber for the conduits.
– Matches Forest Service requirements for five conduits west of Truckee.
– Accommodates internal TDPUD requirements for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and those of Public Education Government institutions.
– Provides spare capacity.
– Significantly increases revenue activity at modest risk.
– Offers high likelihood of recovering investment even if market response was slow to materialize.
District staff recommended that board members approve the proposal for the district to enter into a partnership with the Town of Truckee to mitigate the risk and split the benefits evenly.
The board approved the motion to enter into an agreement with the Town in a 4-1; with director Pat Sutton voting against the proposal.
“The ends don’t justify the means in skipping some of the loops in the governmental process,” Sutton said. “I’m sorry there seems to be an attitude as we enter the 21st Century that the ends justify the means.”
Board president Bob Jones said, “I have great confidence in our staff and for that reason I’m going to vote yes.”
PUD staff did not return calls for additional comment on the fiber-optic issue before presstime Wednesday.
Town rejects deal
The vote also went to Truckee Town Council, which rejected participation in the conduit deal by a unanimous negative vote.
Councilmember Bob Drake said the time frame on the deal was too short for proper consideration, and that he opposed the deal because it would place public agencies in competition with private business.
Councilmember Don McCormack questioned why the PUD got to use a conduit free of charge for its SCADA systems, if the town and PUD were equal partners in the deal.
“Money spent here comes at the expense of other higher priority items,” McCormack said. “This is probably good, but I am opposed. It is a gamble, probably a good one, but we were not elected to gamble with taxpayers’ money. We don’t understand this, and I’m going to vote no.”
Mayor Josh Susman said he also needed more information to make a good decision, and said Williams will probably be back.
“Whether they put two or three conduits in the ground for us, they are still putting five conduits in the ground from Truckee to Colfax because of the Forest Service,” Susman said. “I see that as a sign that Williams will be back.”
Vice Mayor Maia Schneider also expressed concerns about the time limitations of the deal.
“The timetable is short, and the taxpayer bears a possible cost of $500,000.” she said.
Councilmember Ron Florian said the information supplied to the town was insufficient to make a good decision, and asked why Williams had not contacted Truckee much earlier.
Holzmeister, who was present at the town council meeting, said Williams initially contacted the PUD after speaking with Town Engineer Dan Wilkins about the encroachment fees it would have to pay to cross Truckee with its conduits.
Town council voted not to enter into the partnership with the PUD, but directed Wilkins to work out the best compensation for encroachment fees that he could. Wilkins said he will also require a complete rebuild of any lane that Williams has to dig up in order to install conduit as a term of the encroachment permit.
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