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Digital 395 clears another hurdle

May 31, 2012

With the U.S. Forest Service signing off on environmental documents, the Digital 395 project is one step closer to bringing high-speed Internet access to the Eastern Sierra. Photo courtesy metrocreativegraphics.com

Digital 395 has passed another milestone and is nearly ready for the construction phase.
On Wednesday, May 23, Forest Supervisor Ed Armenta signed a Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact for the Digital 395 Middle-Mile Project, essentially saying the project poses no major environmental concerns.
Armenta’s signature now allows Praxis, the contractor responsible for the project, to install, operate and maintain approximately 49 miles of underground fiber-optic cable in the Mammoth, Mono Lake and White Mountain Ranger districts of the Inyo National Forest.
The work is part of a 593-mile network of middle-mile fiber-optic cable and associated infrastructure from Barstow to Reno, Nev.
According to Praxis, “The purpose of the Digital 395 Middle-Mile Project is to improve local Internet services and provide diverse routing between northern and southern California and southern Nevada.”
Praxis expects installation of the fiber-optic cable to begin this summer and be completed in 2013.
The full Decision Notice/Finding of No Significant Impact and Environmental Assessment are available for review at the Inyo National Forest Supervisor’s Office, 351 Pacu Ln. in Bishop, or on the Internet at http://digital395.com/environmental_assessment_final.html.
The decision is subject to appeal pursuant to regulations at 36 CFR 215. Appeals must be filed (postmarked) within 45 days of the date the legal notice of this decision is published in The Inyo Register. The legal notice of the decision was published on May 26, 2012.
Michael Ort, CEO for Praxis Associates, said, “Our team and vendors have been anxiously awaiting this news. Our materials are on hand, our equipment is ready, and we want to get at it. The local residents have seen our engineers and huge reels of cable rolling along Highway 395, now they are going to be seeing folks back to work, putting it in the ground.”
During an update to the Bishop City Council on Tuesday, Public Works Director Dave Grah said the Forest Service ruling is a “huge milestone” for Praxis, which is now looking to obtain the proper permits and rights to build infrastructure for the project along U.S. 395.
Grah also said that a contract that would allow Praxis to install fiber optic cables in city-owned buildings is currently being reviewed by City Attorney Peter Tracy, and will go before the council at its next meeting.
Praxis said that, because time is a factor in the project, four parallel activities are currently underway: a handful of small buildings called “nodes” will be strategically installed in towns along the route to regenerate the optical signals on the fiber; conduit will be installed along the main route; cables will be laid in the towns; and the 300 or so service locations will be wired up.
The project aims to connect schools, medical facilities, public safety buildings and various governmental agencies.
Private residents and businesses will benefit from retailers who will tie into Digital 395 to get faster, lower-cost broadband.
“The public will see activities all along the route,” Ort said. “We will be working initially in Nevada to make our connections there in concert with activities closer to Barstow. However, we should quickly see more activity in Mono County, so we can beat the winter snows.”
Praxis said there are still several agencies that need to complete their work approving other permits. In total, more than 45 permitting agencies were involved in overseeing the approvals: protecting animals, plants, historical and cultural sites, maintaining water quality and generally assuring that the project follows federal, state and local regulations.
“We still need to close off some final requirements with the U.S. Forest Service, BLM and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, several tribal lands, and with agencies concerned with the cultural heritage of the area,” Ort said, “but the agencies are supporting the effort and are moving things along. They have to make sure all their requirements are met.”
The project is slated for completion at the end of July 2013.

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