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Fiscal Court delays action on telecom franchise for Kentucky Wired

Judge Executive Dean Watts, left, talks with members of Nelson Fiscal Court at the end of its regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.

 

By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette / WBRT Radio

Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017 — Nelson Fiscal Court delayed taking action Tuesday morning on a request by Bluegrass Networks for the county to create a telecommunications franchise. The agreement is necessary before Bluegrass Networks can begin building the fiber optic infrastructure as part of the state’s Kentucky Wired project.

Kentucky Wired is a state government initiative to create a statewide high-speed infrastructure.

Magistrates Sam Hutchins and Jeff Lear look over documents prior to the state of Tuesday’s Nelson Fiscal Court meeting.

Nelson County does not have a telecommunications franchise agreement, and has been asked to create so Bluegrass Networks can get the right to use county rights-of-way for the fiber optic telecommunications network.

During the court’s meeting Tuesday, the magistrates had some pointed questions about the overall Kentucky Wired project. A recent Associated Press article highlighted the fact that some state legislators are calling to pull the plug on the project due to cost overruns and being three years behind schedule.

The original project to install 3,000 miles of fiber optic cable to all of the state’s 120 counties was scheduled to be completed in one year.

Three years later, the project has completed just 68 miles of tubing for the cables, nearly 13 miles of glass fiber and 6 miles of aerial fiber cables. State government has already paid $7 million in penalties to its private-sector partners.

Bryan Bell, a Bluegrass Cellular senior manager, told the magistrates that despite news headlines, they are confident the project will continue to receive funding and will be completed. As reported in statewide media, shutting down the project would be more costly than completing it.

Bell said Bluegrass Networks role is simply as a contractor to install the fiber. Bluegrass was chosen to install the fiber lines in a 21 county area that includes Nelson, Washington and Marion counties. He didn’t know the reasons that shutting the project down would be more costly than completing it.

Bluegrass Networks has secured franchise agreements with about 60 percent of the needed rights-of-way at this point, he said.

The state has used some very high-cost contractors on parts of the project, Bell explained. Bluegrass is being paid $28,600 per mile to build the network to serve its 21 county coverage area, which is actually below Bluegrass’ actual costs.

Bluegrass plans to build the network in its area with extra capacity, Bell explained. The extra capacity is designed to handle both the growth in use of the completed network, and also for the company’s future use. The company also has a 30-year contract to maintain its part of the completed network.

Nelson Fiscal Court took no action on the franchise agreement. Judge Executive Dean Watts said that he plans to meet with the judge executives of Marion and Washington counties about the project before the counties move forward.

PENSION RESOLUTION. The magistrates approved a non-binding resolution to separate the County Employees Retirement System from the oversight of the Kentucky Retirement System. The resolution calls for the creation of an independent board of directors to manage the retirement system. All county employees participate in CERS.

Watts told the court that he believed the state legislature may give the agencies who participate in CERS and are facing substantial increases in their contributions next year some relief. The legislature may allow participating agencies to pay the increased contributions over a period of time instead of one large payment in order to ease the financial burden.

STATE ROAD FUNDS. The magistrates approved a resolution to accepted Transportation Cabinet funding to repave Plum Run Road.

The resolution means the state will provide up to $126,665 for the paving project.

WICKLAND HOME RESTORATION. After discussion, the court agreed to advertise for contractors to look at the rebuild and restoration of the small home at the rear of the Wickland estate. The home was damaged by fire in July, and Watts told the court that he would like to interview contractors who are interested in taking on the project.

In other action, the magistrates:

— approved advertising for a new low-boy style trailer.

— appointed Harold Coulter and Tracy Gordon to be the court-apppointed viewers required for the request closure of a portion of Love Ridge Road. The viewers will examine the road and report back to Nelson Fiscal Court. The two viewers previously appointed could not serve due to being related to property owners in the area.

— heard that the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office received a grant to purchase new Tasers.

NEXT UP. Nelson Fiscal Court meets next at 9 a.m. Oct. 17, 2017.

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