Broadband Update

Broadband Update from the Alford Broadband Committee

Revised March 18, 2015

The Alford Broadband Committee would like to update the town on the status of the broadband project, whose studies continue to proceed under the guidance of the Select Board. This is part of our continuing effort to keep the town apprised of our progress.

We have had extensive meetings with MBI, the State government entity that will allocate $40 million to regional networks and towns to facilitate the creation of fiber networks. We have become increasingly confident that Alford will qualify for and receive its share of the funds, and we are planning our strategy around that goal.

The Committee identified four distinct fiber-to-the-home options, and after significant study and research, have concluded that two are best for our town. Below are brief descriptions of both, including the advantages and disadvantages of each:

PATH 1 – Public Option (Alford/MBI Partnership)

Under this option, the Town of Alford, through the newly formed MLP, the Alford Broadband Committee and the Select Board would work closely with MBI to design and build a complete fiber-to-the-home network. The Alford network could ultimately serve as the basis of a regional solution, in conjunction with or outside the WiredWest group. We would benefit from of all technical, financial, legal and other resources that MBI can provide. All essential services, such as maintenance, insurance and management would be provided by vendors hired by the MLP. The total cost, still estimated to be in the $1.3 million area (which was validated by the Design Study completed last month), would be partially offset by MBI grants. The balance would be financed by a municipal bond offering whose debt service requirement would be met by a tax increase. As we stated in previous Information Sessions, we believe that the average tax increase would be modest, and would fall most heavily on a minority of taxpayers currently paying in excess of $5,000 per year in real estate taxes. Should we follow this path, we would present extensive information on the effect of the tax increase, prior to any vote.

Advantages

  • We build it, we own it, we control it.
  • No private entity takes out a profit, so the subscription costs would be lower.

Disadvantages

  • Tax increase for everyone, even though some residents won’t use it.
  • Alford would be responsible for management and maintenance of the system.
  • Timing would be uncertain, and could be delayed by the need to coordinate with a government entity and/or other towns, probably well into 2017.

PATH 2 – Public/Private Option

The Alford Broadband Committee has been approached by two private companies that would propose to build, operate, and maintain the network in the town, largely at their expense. Much of the remaining expense would likely be covered by MBI grants, meaning that the upfront cost to the Alford taxpayers would be modest. One company proposes to allow Alford an option to take over ownership of the network after 20 years, while the other company would permanently own the network.

Advantages

  • There would be no need for a bond issue.
  • Taxpayer burden would be substantially lower, and the cost would be predominantly borne by the subscribers to the service.
  • The private companies have substantial know-how and experience in this field, relieving the Alford participants (MLP/Committee/Select Board) of the burden of managing the process, or being responsible for maintenance or upgrades.
  • Construction would likely be faster under this option, with a possible completion by year-end 2016.

Disadvantages

  • Both companies would require that the Town of Alford guarantee a minimum number of subscribers. The Committee is very confident that many Alford residents will join, and the minimum (to be negotiated) could be achieved. We will closely analyze this risk, to include circulating another town survey very soon.
  • Since the companies would need to earn back their investment and record a profit, monthly subscription fees would be modestly higher than for the public option above.

Where do we go from here? There is a lot going on….

The final vote to create the MLP, which will manage the fiber network, was held on March 12th and passed overwhelmingly. The Select Board has engaged special legal counsel to help in the process. You will be receiving a survey in the mail in the coming days, which will help us gauge the measure of support and subscription that we might have in the town. Please fill it out promptly and return it to us. We can’t stress enough how important this information is.

No final decisions or recommendations have yet been made to the Select Board. We continue to study all relevant factors and in due course expect to recommend that the Select Board request a vote to authorize expenditures for establishing a fiber-to-the-home network in Alford, to appear on the Warrant at a Town Meeting on a date to be determined. We will be hosting Information Sessions in April to further clarify our conclusions and recommendations to the Select Board, and to answer all your questions. We’re on the home stretch, and we believe that our efforts have put Alford in an enviable position, in control of our fiber destiny.

Alford Broadband Committee

Tom Doyle
John Littlechild
Bruce Forster
Julie Scott
Jim Hall
Jay Weintraub
Bob Lichter

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Selectmen’s Meeting Notice

The Selectmen’s meeting that was scheduled for the 23rd of March at 12:00 noon has been cancelled.

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Special Town Meeting on March 12

Alford Town Hall

Alford Town Hall

A Special Town Meeting will be held at the Alford Town Hall on Thursday March 12, 2015 at 7:00 pm to vote on the following Articles:

ARTICLE 1. To see if the Town will vote to authorize the Board of Selectmen to take all necessary and appropriate action to establish and to maintain, in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 164 of the General Laws and in accordance with the rules, regulations and orders of the Department of Utilities and the Department of Telecommunications & Cable, a municipal lighting plant for all purposes allowable under the laws of the Commonwealth, including without limitation the operation of a telecommunications system and any related services, or to take any other action relative thereto. (Written ballot required)

ARTICLE 2. To see if the Town will vote to transfer from available funds the sum of Twenty Five Thousand Dollars 00/100 ($25,000.00)to cover cost over-runs related to the renovations to the Town Hall and the Town Office Buildings.

ARTICLE 3. To see if the Town will vote to approve the $7,741,000.00 borrowing authorized by the Southern Berkshire Regional School District (“SBRSD”), for the purpose of paying costs of SBRSD Roof/Boiler Project at Mt. Everett/Undermountain School, 491 Berkshire School Road, Sheffield, MA 01257 consisting of replacing the entire roof and three boilers, including the payment of all costs incidental or related thereto (the “Project”), which proposed repair project would materially extend the useful life of the school and preserve an asset that otherwise is capable of supporting the required educational program, and for which the District may be eligible for a school construction grant from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (“MSBA”), said amount to be expended at the direction of SBRSD the School Building Committee; the Town acknowledges that the MSBA’s grant program is a non-entitlement, discretionary program based on need, as determined by the MSBA, and any Project costs the District incurs in excess of any grant approved by and received from the MSBA shall be the sole responsibility of the District and its member municipalities; provided that any grant that the District may receive from the MSBA for the Project shall not exceed the lesser of (1) thirty-nine and twenty-one one hundredths percent (39.21%) of eligible, approved project costs, as determined by the MSBA, or (2) the total maximum grant amount determined by the MSBA; and provided that the amount of borrowing authorized by the District shall be reduced by any grant amount set forth in the Project Funding Agreement that may be executed between the District and the MSBA and any additional grant funding received for this project by the District.

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Open Burning Season 2015

Fire StationOpen Burning Season is open for the State of Massachusetts.
Dates for open burning are January 15, 2015 to May 1, 2015.
Hours are 10:00AM-4:00PM.
To obtain a permit call:
Chief Stephen Berkel  413-528-5156 (home)    413-229-2515 (work)
Asst. Chief Joe Morandi  413-528-1855 (home)    413-281-6227 (cell)

MassDEP Air Quality Hotline

The MA Dept. of Environmental Protection regulates open burning in MA and information explaining those regulations on its website. Starting in 2014, you must also be sure air quality conditions are acceptable for burning by calling the MassDEP Air Quality Hotline at (617) 556-1021 or by visiting the MassAir Online website athttp://public.dep.state.ma. us/MassAir. Even with a fire department permit in hand, you cannot burn if the air quality is not acceptable.

MassDEP lists 22 communities that do not allow open burning at all: Arlington, Belmont, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Chicopee, Everett, Fall River, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Medford, New Bedford, Newton, Somerville, Springfield, Waltham, Watertown, West Springfield, and Worcester.

A Permit is Required from Local Fire Warden/Fire Chief

A permit must be obtained from the local fire warden, usually the local fire chief. Weather conditions can change rapidly, especially in the spring, and fire wardens will determine on a daily basis when it is safe to conduct open burning. If winds kick up or other atmospheric conditions change suddenly, making it unsafe to burn, permits can be rescinded (cancelled).

The open burning must be a minimum of 75 feet from all buildings and must be conducted between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and must take place on the land closest to the source of material to be burned, according to Department of Environmental Protection regulations (310 CMR DEP 7.07).

People conducting illegal burning, or who allow a fire to get out of control, may be held liable for costs of extinguishing a fire, fined, and even imprisoned (MGL c.48 s.13).

With A Permit, Burning of the Following Materials Is Allowed:

Brush, cane, driftwood, and forestry debris from other than commercial or industrial land clearing operations
Materials normally associated with the pursuit of agriculture such as, fruit tree prunings, dead raspberry stalks, blueberry patches for pruning purposes, and infected beehives for disease control.
Trees and brush resulting from agricultural land clearing.
Fungus infected elm wood, if no other acceptable means of disposal is available.

Burning of the Following Materials Is Prohibited Statewide:

Brush, trees, cane and driftwood from commercial and/or industrial land clearing operations.
Grass, hay, leaves and stumps, and tires.
Construction material and debris

How to Safely Ignite the Fire

An adult should always be present during open burning and children and pets should be kept at a safe distance away.
Use paper and kindling to start a fire and add progressively larger pieces of wood. Parts of a leftover Christmas tree may also be used.
Never use gasoline, kerosene or any other flammable liquid to start a fire! The risk of personal injury in these cases is very high.
Burn one small pile at a time and slowly add to it. This will help keep the fire from getting out of control.
Select a location away from utility lines.

Fires Must be Attended Until Completely Extinguished

Do not leave your fire burning unattended. This is a reason to revoke your burning permit.

Fire Control Tools and Water Supply Must Be Present

The water supply can be a pressurized fire extinguisher, a pump can or garden hose. Be sure to test it out before igniting the fire to be sure it works properly. Also, if relying on a garden hose double-check that the water supply is turned on and that there are no cracks in the hose itself. You are required to have a water supply and fire control tools on hand.

Watch the Wind: Be Prepared to Extinguish All Open Burning

It is unsafe to burn during high winds. Use common sense and don’t wait for the fire department to contact you that is has become unsafe to burn. Sudden wind change is the how most open burning gets out of control.

Don’t Delay a Call for Help

If for some reason, the fire should get out of control, call the fire department immediately. Use the utmost caution to prevent injury to yourself or family members or any damage by fire to your home.

Extinguish the Fire Fully

Burn the fire down to the coals, drown them with water, spread them out, then drown them again​

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Green Energy Meeting in Egremont

The Egremont Green Committee is holding an informational meeting on alternative energy supply sources (with an emphasis on renewable energy) for residential use on January 24 at 10:00 AM at the North Egremont Fire House on Route 71. Several energy supply options will be discussed. Information on costs, commitment, supply, and delivery will be presented by vendors. All are welcome.

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