Sewer project broadband complications ironed out

December 27, 2019

By: Heather Willard

The Athens County Commissioners ran into some stumbling blocks on the Route 50W sanitary sewer project when discussions of sharing the trench with a communications company were stalled due to uncertainty of federal regulations.

The project will provide sanitary sewers to the housing subdivisions along Route 50W and to some other nearby areas that are currently served by septic tanks. It is considered an environmental project. The sewage would be treated by the city of Athens, and broadband fiber cable will be laid to provide connectivity for residents in the same area.

In 2014, engineering for the project was authorized. It was at that time that the city of Athens and the county entered into an agreement for the city to treat the equivalent of 1,500 single households. Essentially, the city would provide treatment for existing residential and commercial development in the area, with only a little room for growth.

The county has said it will pay the city a $3.9 million capacity fee for use of the treatment plant.

In the spring of 2018, a discussion on grinder pumps began. About 60 homes were required to have such pumps in order to be a part of the sanitary sewer system. Homes required to have grinder pumps were not required to hook into the new sanitary sewer.

In April 2019, the commissioners continued discussing the project and aimed at putting it out to bid by May or June. Funding was discussed: The USDA agreed to provide $14.3 million in grant funds and a 40-year, $14.5 million loan at 2 percent interest toward the overall project cost.

But in August, the project’s cost jumped nearly $6 million, and additional federal funding was sought. The nearly $20.8 million construction cost estimate has risen of $26.6 million, and the $28.6 million overall cost estimate for the project has risen to $34.5 million.

Part of the project involves including a third party expansion of broadband infrastructure — this would help with connectivity out toward Albany in Athens County. Intelliwave was tapped as that third party in May — for the communication company, the project gives an opportunity to lay fiber cable without digging a trench of its own. That means lowering the cost of such a project for them — all Intelliwave would be responsible for is the cost of laying their conduit and cable, which will go overtop the sanitary sewer line.

On Monday, the Athens County Commissioners discussed with Intelliwave CEO Chris Cooper a letter submitted to the USDA asking whether there are conflicts between the sewer and fiber in a combined trench.

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