Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel concerning Hotwire coming online as a system-wide broadband provider for Highlands.
At Thursday night’s Town Board meeting, Town Manager Josh Ward asked IT Director Matt Shuler to present the board with the Fiber Construction completion update.
“I will address construction items first. We are getting very close to the end,” he said. “One issue is the splicing. There were a total of 7,700 fiber in the trunk fiber in the head-in and then down the road that same fiber had to be spliced to another and another and another before it gets to its final destination. As of the end of Thursday our splicer has 180 left. The majority of all the construction splicing has been completed. There are a few of the MST ports that were brought down by some tree limbs, so those two are repairs, that have to be re-spliced. The plan is to be finished by Friday of next week. Additional ‘construction’ items are the 35 anchors that are left to be installed. They are also hanging the splice cases now – you may have noticed them on the ground around town – so they are being hung back. Projected date for everything to be complete is the end of July.”
Mayor Pat Taylor asked if a third-party was verifying the construction and the final splicing and that every fiber was lit.
Shuler said yes there is a third-party verifying and town crews are also checking.
On the financial side, Shuler said there are no overages projected to the town whatsoever and issues that needed attending to were done so by the town engineer so there was no cost to the town.
The final contract with Hotwire, which will be a provider and which will also lease fiber to other providers, is in the final stages.
Shuler said the lawyers are close to finalizing the final draft of the contract and it should be ready for presentation at the August Town Board meeting.
“Josh and I and our lawyers have been working back and forth with Hotwire and we have a meeting this week to do a final discussion. That form of the contract will be brought to you at the August meeting,” he said.
A representative from Hotwire will also be at the August Town Board meeting to answer any questions. At that point, commissioners can either approve or indicate edits they would like to see made to the contract.
Shuler said once the contract is signed, it will be around three months before the system goes live but in his opinion Hotwire will most likely use all their staff forces to get that head-in in as soon as possible and during that time, folks will be able to sign up for service.
“Hotwire has to stand up a head-in. We have the fiber, but they will have to bring in and set up electronic equipment before they are ready to go,” he said.
Commissioner Hehn, who has been against the project from the start, had several requests of staff Thursday night.
“I want to know when the contract completion date is, what are the rain dates, what are the liquidated images, were there any additional costs? It’s about a 1 ½ years late, so you have to look at the completion date, add the rain dates, COVID had to be considered, of course, but what is the loss of income to the town since it’s late, what are the additional expenses in regards to that? That’s what I am looking for,” he said. “I just want to read the contract to know if we are getting everything we are supposed to be getting.”
According to Mayor Taylor, none of the commissioners have seen or read the Hotwire contract because it’s not ready.
“They are hashing out several issues between the two parties. When it is finished, all commissioners will be given a copy to review in advance and before a vote is taken. I have not seen a draft yet either,” he said.
Regarding the timeline, Shuler said Town Attorney JK Coward is sending a letter to Hotwire establishing that if Hotwire isn’t ready with the contract by the end of July, then the town will put the financial burden on them.
Shuler said the town hasn’t paid Hotwire in full – it has held back $1 million – because the engineer hasn’t declared the project substantially completed yet.
“It will be paid when it is completed,” he said.
Shuler also said the town gets updates each week from Palmetto, the objective third-party crew – that is making sure everything is completed.
“The supervisor of the Palmetto crew walks the entire system, makes notes as to what needs to be done, and those items are done immediately. He doesn’t wait until a report is generated. He just goes ahead and has his crew do it,” said Shuler.
Commissioner Hehn suggested our electric crew inspect the system.
“Don’t you think that would be a good idea? Seems to me we would want our own people giving you feedback as to what they see or anything they are worried about,” he said.
Shuler said that’s not necessary because the crews on the job are communication engineers.
Concerning the overall Fiber Construction Project, Thursday night, Hehn presented the board with a letter addressed to Town Manager Josh Ward requesting all copies of the construction file for the project including all partial payments for the project, all third-party construction observation reports and third-party construction observation invoices.
“The law requires that you respond to and fulfill this request as promptly as possible. If you expect a significant delay in responding to and fulfilling this request, please let me know when I might expect copies or when I have the ability to inspect the requested records,” reads the letter.
“If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption you feel justifies the refusal to release the information and notify me of the appeal procedures available to me under the law.”
In response to the request, Mayor Taylor said the myriad of documents Commissioner Hehn is requesting will take time for staff to produce.
“He wants to see all the punch lists and testing data that the engineers are producing and signing off on this week. When we get the reports, he can see them, too,” he said.
By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper