Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, Sept. 4 newspaper on Page A1.
Concerns over efficiency were discussed but not resolved during the Tuesday morning Athens County Commissioners meeting involving the Route 50 sanitary sewer project.
The project, now estimated to cost $34.5 million, is aimed at providing sanitary sewer service to housing subdivisions along Route 50 west of Athens. The city would provide the sewage treatment, and will replace the individual septic tanks the residents currently use — making the endeavor considered to be an environmental project.
There are also plans to combine this with another project to expand broadband access to the rural area. Chris Cooper, owner of Intelliwave, a company that will be laying fiber optic cable, met with the commissioners and advocated for the adoption of the Ohio federal government policy of “dig once.”
That statewide policy is an effort to leverage non-broadband infrastructure projects and therefore reduce the cost of broadband expansion. A study conducted by the Department of Agriculture through Ohio State University found that over half of Athens County residents have broadband internet access. Reducing costs to building broadband networks is important for the success of other rural residents lacking access, Cooper said Tuesday.
The county commissioners approved Intelliwave’s general proposal to install broadband internet in conjunction with the sewer project back in May, The Messenger reported then.
Intelliwave and Athens County have since attempted to reach an agreement on what the work will look like. The goal is to utilize the already open trench and stretch the grant money further. The only portion of the fiber optic cable project that interacts with the sanitary sewer project is the laying of the fiber optic conduit — the cable will be laid later by Intelliwave.
Intelliwave will be using equipment that will deliver 1-gigabyte-per-second broadband, and will provide active ethernet service to enterprise customers needing service up to 10 gigabytes per second, according to the company’s proposal.
Intelliwave will also bear the cost of laying the conduit, but hopes to use the same contractor as will be used for the sanitary sewer project, Cooper said. Where the conduit will lay in the trench itself is also still part of the conversation, as there are some concerns of cutting through the conduit. Cooper did note the conduit is a “metal jacket” intended to add a layer of protection to the fiber cable.
The commissioners had earlier hoped to put the project out to bid by the end of July. The new goal is the end of September, and both parties mentioned concerns of further delays. A contract will be drawn up for the contractor’s work with the commissioners, and a separate contract will be drawn up for the work done for Intelliwave.
The Messenger has reported that the USDA earlier agreed to provide $14.3 million in grant funding and a 40-year, $14.5 million loan at 2 percent interest toward the overall project cost.
Last month, this newspaper reported the estimated cost of the project has risen by nearly $6 million to being $34.5 million. The commissioners submitted paperwork to the USDA to seek additional funding.