By Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
The Fairhaven Selectboard met with Jeff Christensen, president of EntryPoint Network, on 1/11/21 to discuss progress with the request for proposals (RFPs) as Fairhaven tentatively moves toward installing a fiber-optic system throughout the town.
The Broadband Study Committee has spent months looking at the feasibility of such a project. As Mr. Christensen summarized it, it is getting close to hardening those numbers of the potential cost for such an undertaking.
Selectboard member Bob Espindola has been the board’s representative on the committee. He said roughly 500 residents had responded favorably to the prospect of bringing a fiber-optic Internet, cable TV, and telephone infrastructure to Fairhaven. His concern was keeping the momentum as Finance Director/Treasurer/ Collector Wendy Graves assumes the interim town administrator role. He asked her to continue the progress retired Town Administrator Mark Rees had made up to this point of accepting RFPs and asked her to attend the committee’s next meeting on 1/14 at 6:00 p.m. Mr. Espindola also recommended that residents with questions or interest in hearing more should also participate in the meeting via Zoom.
Resident Gary Lavalette posed a few questions, beginning with how the 911 system would change due to the new technology infrastructure. His main emphasis was the impact that cost would have on the feasibility of the project.
According to Mr. Christensen, the town may have to establish a municipal light plant if it constructs and owns its own fiber-optic network operated by a third party. It would not result in any new tax on residents, he said, and switching from their current cable and Internet providers would be voluntary.
“The broad goals [are that] the system would not lead to a new tax in Fairhaven … and the system would be sustainable on its own [and] it wouldn’t create a burden on the town,” said Mr. Christensen.
It would add value, not be a drain on resources.
However, as Mr. Lavalette put it, Fairhaven establishing its own fiber-optic network, “It’s a big step.”
Improving Internet service to residents is a no-brainer, he said, and it was evident that “fiber optics is the way to go.” But he said he understood how cable companies can be “territorial” and wondered what it would look like with a third party operating with the use of infrastructure (i.e., telephone poles) owned by another party.
The 911 network would run better on a broadband network and even have its own dedicated 911 network, Mr. Christensen pointed out.
“Your town or region would decide how that’s going to work,” he said, adding, “We plan to improve what’s there and improve it significantly.”
“Everybody wants to cut their cable bill down,” said Mr. Lavalette. “I just don’t want to lose anything…. The bottom line will be the cost.”
Selectboard Chairperson Daniel Freitas said he hopes the fiber-optic project becomes a reality.
“I think it could be a really good thing for the town, so I hope it pans out,” he said, adding that his cable bill is already “astronomical,” so to get “something better for cheaper, then that’s the way of the world.”
Also during the meeting, Building Commissioner Chris Carmichael introduced a new permit fee schedule, which the board approved as presented.
Mr. Carmichael said he initially implied that he would slowly roll out new fees if they resulted in higher rates; however, there will not be any shocking rises in permit fees, he said, adding that some residential permit fees will go down slightly.
He assessed area averages for commercial fees and set them just below that regional average.
Mr. Freitas said the new fee schedule was more aligned with how he had wanted to see it with modest changes instead of fee hikes.
“This is not like punching someone in the face to get something done,” said Mr. Freitas. “This is more like you said: some things are actually coming down.”
“He’s right on target,” commented Selectboard member Keith Silvia, a contractor by trade who is familiar with such fees. “It’s not going to kill anybody.”
Mr. Carmichael said he expected the new online permitting system, with the new fees, to be live on the website at the beginning of February.
In other matters, the board received some legal guidance from the law firm Clifford & Kenny, LLC, regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and town employees.
In summary, the town has been advised that mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for employees is an option, “but there are several factors that should give you pause before considering such a mandate.
“One of the biggest challenges faced in vaccinating the population lies in educating the general public as to the benefits and risks associated with the vaccine,” reads the law firm’s memo to the board. “We would generally recommend providing as much information as possible about the vaccine to your employees and hope that they voluntarily participate in a vaccination program.”
Mr. Espindola pressed to have the board vote on a specific policy direction to take, but neither Mr. Freitas nor Mr. Silvia was inclined to do so.
Mr. Freitas said he would generally oppose making it mandatory for employees to get the shot. Although Mr. Espindola expressed a similar sentiment, he hoped to set a policy that evening.
Mr. Freitas expressed frustration with Mr. Espindola’s request, saying that he felt as though Mr. Espindola had led him down a “rabbit hole” and said he was unclear about what Mr. Espindola was asking. Mr. Freitas then suggested that if any board should suggest a vaccine policy, it should be the Board of Health.
At that, Mr. Freitas ended the discussion abruptly, saying, “We’re moving on. The discussion is over.”
In another matter, Mr. Silvia asked if the board could invite the tree warden to one of its future meetings after he said he had received several complaints.
Mr. Espindola expressed concern over a lack of communication pertaining to last Friday’s retirement presentation for the fire chief. Mr. Espindola said he had asked whether Mr. Freitas would be able to attend the ceremony several times but did not get any response. Out of concern, Mr. Espindola said he rearranged his schedule to be at the event just in case there were no other board members there.
“I don’t know why the communication is breaking down,” said Mr. Espindola. “It does affect my time; if you could make an effort to respond…”
In other business, the board appointed John Medeiros and David Braga as associate members on the Historical Commission.
In light of Town Administrator Mark Rees’s retirement last week, the board appointed its interim town administrator, Wendy Graves, as ADA coordinator, affirmation action officer, procurement officer, and the board’s rep to the Mattapoisett River Valley Water District and Capital Improvement Committee.
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