There was great news for technologically challenged Block Island at this week’s Town Council meeting. The group approved an agreement to allow placement of a fiber optic cable within the submarine power cable that Deepwater Wind is planning to install between here and Narragansett as part of its Block Island Wind Farm project.
Deepwater was already planning to install fiber optic cables for their own use, but now has agreed to add extra cables for the use of the town.
Deepwater will lay the cable at no cost to the town. At each end of the fiber optic cable, it would be the town’s responsibility to negotiate with a telecommunications service provider – be it Verizon, currently under fire for its DSL speeds here (see below), or another provider.
The cable “is sort of a ‘where is, as is,’” said attorney William Landry, representing Deepwater. “It would be up to the town to get it replaced or repaired once it’s in place.”
That responsibility raised concerns. Various members of the public and council agreed that the town could not afford to replace or repair the cable if it incurred damage in the future.
However, it was mentioned that it was very unlikely that only the town’s cables would be damaged — the fiber optic cables are bundled with the entire submarine cable, so chances are Deepwater would need to repair its own cables along with the fiber optic cables. Town Manager Nancy Dodge also said that the town would not be required to repair the cable, and probably would not do so in the event of a damaged cable.
Howell Conant, from the audience, also raised concerns that Verizon was not being brought into or notified of this process. Dodge reassured the public that an outside expert, Walter MacDonald of Marenco Engineering, has been working with the town to make sure that the cable conforms to telecommunications standards. MacDonald, Dodge said, has worked on similar fiber optic cable projects and projects with Verizon elsewhere.
Dodge said the first focus would be making sure fiber optics could connect with municipal buildings, but that they would be able to connect with and support residential uses as well.
“The choice is not do we get Verizon to run fiber,” said Everett Shorey, from the audience. “The choice is, do we take this deal, or do we have no fiber at all.”
The town also approved an agreement for easements with Deepwater Wind for cables and manhole installations, plus a temporary work area at Town Beach’s north parking lot.
While he was present, Deepwater Chief Administrative Officer Jeff Grybowski provided an update on a steel research buoy called the NJORD (New Jersey Offshore Research Device) that has been deployed off the coast of Block Island.
The 25-ton buoy will measure atmospheric and sea conditions in Block Island Sound for about a month, and then will be transported to the waters of the New Jersey Sound, where it will perform similar research for the next few years.
The buoy is not needed for the Block Island Wind Farm, but it will test and validate the data Deepwater has collected. While destined for New Jersey and funded by N.J. state grants, the buoy is being deployed first off the coast of Block Island because it is close to Deepwater’s main location, explained Grybowski.
Slow Verizon internet?
Although fiber technology sends promise for the future, the island still lives in the current reality of Verizon internet. Several members of the public stepped up to voice concerns over Verizon internet speeds, complaining that they continue to get slower.
“It’s impossible, during the day, to get feasible amounts of service,” said audience member Norm Topf, who explained he lives on the Neck where there is no hardwired service. He must connect via a Verizon Air Card, and generally cannot connect or has poor service. However, he points out he pays the same rates as those using DSL.
“There’s two issues here,” said Shorey. “One is, the capabilities they offer on the island are low to begin with… and they mostly don’t hit that standard.”
Conant also said that the Verizon equipment and cabling is inadequate and aged, which affects speeds. Several members of the public said they were at one point promised that equipment would be upgraded, but nothing has been done yet.
Dodge said to call and complain to Verizon, and to also call Town Hall to inform the town of service issues (or email: email@example.com). This way, the town can begin to build a substantial record of complaints.
Because members of the public also vented frustrations about Verizon’s call system and customer service, (long hold times, being transferred from person to person and customer representatives that leave the company after short periods of time,) the town also agreed to file a complaint to the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
Town Manager Nancy Dodge provided an update on the maintenance of the corner of Dodge and Water streets, across from the National Hotel, where there’s a steep path down to the beach. Dodge said that Road Crew Chief Mike Shea checks the corner weekly, work was done in the winter and currently the sidewalk is not undercut.
During public comment at the June 4 Town Council meeting, Edith Blane had brought up the topic of the potentially unsafe corner. Blane was concerned that there was no work being done on the corner, and that the sidewalk may eventually cave in.
“We know what work has to be done,” said Dodge. Dodge said that any maintenance on the path would require permitting from the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) – and the town is waiting to perform any maintenance and changes until the Old Harbor Task Force makes a proposal this fall on plans for the entire property.
Finance Director Amy Land reported that municipal budgets are the closest she has seen to being right on target, and no groups are reporting a budget overage or underage.
Land also brought several requests to the Town Council.
The town agreed to close the Town Hall construction account because the construction has completed. The council also agree to open a Washington Trust Co. account for the Old Harbor Task Force, but only for restrictive use to pay for repair of town benches.
The town also agreed to authorize electronic wire transfers through the Washington Trust; Land explained that, previously, she was making transfers in person at the bank, but this became an issue when she was off-island.
Also approved were two requests to designate 2012 funds for use in 2013: the Medical Center requested their funds for roof shingling be held to the next year, and it was requested that part of the town’s technology budget line also be held.
The council convened as the Board of License Commissioners, and after a drawn-out debate, granted a BV Liquor License to the Surf Hotel, contingent upon meeting various zoning, health, safety and other requirements. The final decision made by the board reflected concerns regarding outside service; guests would be able to take alcohol on the porches, but no liquor would be served there. See story, front page.
The council approved to sponsor the 2012 ConserFest, scheduled for July 12 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Also approved was a permit allowing tethered balloon rides for a Block Island Early Learning Center fundraising event from July 8 through July 12. The rides will be contingent upon proper winds, and will ascend 60 feet into the air.
The council approved Land Trust amendments to the BILT Rules and Regulations.
Police Chief Vincent Carlone introduced three of the state police officers on island for the summer, and also introduced newest New Shoreham police officer, Christopher Rich, who will be attending the academy this summer.
The town approved a request by the Tax Collector to write off $422.17 in 2002 taxes as uncollectible.
The council moved to ask the Electric Utilities Task Group to put out a RFP for a municipal solar program. Council member Peter Baute explained that the idea was originally proposed in the energy plan provided by energy company Johnson Controls, but it was later decided that the program should go to an outside source.
The town reported on the status of an outstanding zoning violation at Plat 8, Lot 204. Town attorney Katherine Merolla said that the property had been littered with at least seven aged vehicles, but after the building official posted a complaint, the property owner has cleaned things up.
It was announced that there is an opening on the Harbors Committee due to the resignation of Rob Gilpin.
The following were held in executive session due to matters pertaining to litigation: TNS vs. Filippi et al and Waste Haulers BI LLC vs. Block Island Recycling Management, Inc et als “Transfer Station Litigation.”
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