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The last hurdle to completing the Digital 395 high-speed broadband backbone was jumped last week when California’s Public Utilities Commission voted to give the project another $9.9 million.
The 583-mile project that will connect Barstow to Reno with high-capacity, high-speed broadband fiber optic trunk lines, was over-budget by about that amount by the end of July—the completion deadline date originally set by the federal government, which paid for about $80 million of the $101 million project.
Ort sought and received an extension to complete the project and this past week, when the five CPUC commissioners voted unanimously to make up the funding gap, he said he could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“We started this project on Aug. 16 last year,” he said. “I can finally say we are almost done, and I’m glad to see that at least some residents of the Eastern Sierra are already beginning to reap the rewards,” referring to Suddenlink customers in Mammoth.
The $9.9 million will be used to fund the remaining gap in the backbone—a several-mile section east of the Crowley Lake dam—and to establish connections to all of the Eastern Sierra’s remaining unconnected communities and to individual sites, called “anchors,” such as schools and the Marine Mountain Warfare Training Center north of Bridgeport.
“East of the Crowley Lake dam, we will complete a section that ties Round Mountain Road to Casa Diablo Road, hopefully by the end of the month,” Ort said.
“That will connect the entire backbone, from Barstow to Reno. Then we also have to get a connection to June Lake, which means drilling through solid rock.”
Connections to Walker, Lone Pine, Benton, and Rovana would also be completed, using the $9.9 million, along with some remaining individual anchor connections, including a connection to Cerro Coso College in Bishop, the Round Valley area, a tribal area facility in Lone Pine, the Mono County Animal Control Department, a Caltrans facility in Bridgeport, and a few other individual sites, he said.
In addition, there are still three out-standing projects, to the tune of about a $1 million, that Ort did not get the money for last Thursday, Sept. 6, when the CPUC voted on the resolution to fund the rest of Digital 395.
“We still have to do the environmentals for the connection between Bishop and Round Valley, a tribal center in Lone Pine and a cellular site that we had intended to go aerial.
“Because of a change in state regulations, the aerial cable must now be buried and that triggers a new environmental review process for this section of the project,” he said.
Once that work is done, he will take another request to the CPUC to fund the remaining $1 million, he said.
The entire project is expected to be done by Thanksgiving, Ort said.