Despite an ambitious time line demanding completion by this summer, Digital 395 project proponents say everything is on schedule and looking good for the proposed July 31 “light-up” date.
In a presentation to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Mike Ort, CEO of Praxis, the contractor handling construction of the California Broadband Cooperative project, said major construction to bring a fiber-optic backbone and high-speed Internet capability to the Eastern Sierra is set to begin in Inyo County.
“So far we have received all of our licenses” for the project backbone, he said, and are awaiting county licensing that will allow the company to tie the fiber-optic cable in to local communities.
Ort said that some of the challenges Praxis has faced since starting the project have included inclement weather in Mono County in the way of snow and freezing conditions, contending with endangered species habitats and working around and under more than 350 culturally sensitive sites along the Digital 395 route.
Ort said the project has included digging trenches for the fiber-optic cable through 178 miles of desert tortoise habitat, and only encountered the protected species on the China Lake Navel Weapon’s Base south of Inyo County.
“So far, we’ve spent $23 million on environmental permits and avoidance” of culturally sensitive sites, he said. “It’s become a very substantial part of the budget.”
Once construction is complete in Inyo County, the Digital 395 project will have connectivity from local communities to Barstow, the southern end of the project. Ort said there is still significant construction to be done in Mono County and in Nevada, in addition to Inyo County.
“Our challenge has been an exceptionally cold winter,” Ort said, explaining that snow and frozen earth have made construction of segments of the project in Mono County and Nevada difficult.
Ort explained that the project is broken into 84 construction sections, which has allowed crews to focus on the southern segments of the project during freezing weather.
But with winter still going strong, and most of the southern sections completed, Ort said Praxis is focusing its attention on the project deadline.
“I’m very comfortable about getting the network in by July, but the contingency (if crews fall behind on the schedule) is moving more contractors into the area,” Ort said. He added that Praxis is already looking at bringing more contractors in on the Mono County segments to ensure snowy conditions don’t hinder progress. “We’re getting it done,” Ort said. “It’s a complex environment with contingencies. There’s a lot of pieces, a lot of moving parts and a lot of coordination, but I don’t see anything hindering us.”
In addition to the California Broadband Cooperative conducting oversight of the program, Ort said Praxis also answers to state and federal regulators.
Praxis and the California Broadband Cooperative is required to meet twice a week with state officials to report on their progress, and compile annual and quarterly reports for federal regulators.
“The federal government places a great deal of vigilance on the project,” Ort said. “I’m rather impressed.”
Ort said Praxis is planning a public light-up ceremony to commemorate the completion of the project.