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home : premium content : news May 27, 2016

2/13/2013 1:30:00 PM
PUD decides to rebuild fiber network on Lake Wenatchee south shore

Ian Dunn

Despite the cost, the Chelan County PUD has decided to rebuild the fiber optic network on Lake Wenatchee's south shore destroyed by the December winter storm that brought down hundreds of trees.

With the expected cost to rebuild the network estimated at $650,000, the PUD considered using less expensive wireless technology. The plan was to shoot the wireless over the lake from the north side. This would have provided much slower broadband, and as well, there were other technical considerations.

"We think it is a solution for some parts of the county long term," said Mike Coleman, PUD Fiber and Telecom managing director. "There were some particular technical considerations that would have to be dealt with that would have driven the time frame quite a bit longer than we would have liked."

So the decision was made to proceed with rebuild on the south shore. A main thrust for the fiber program moving forward was to live within its means and not rely on the electrical system for support. Coleman said they can accommodate this expense in their budget.

While it is an unexpected expense, Coleman said the fiber program has been set up with a cash reserve. The cash reserve was targeted to be at $4 million by the end of 2016.

"At the end of 2012, we are doing good at working on that reserve," he said. "We have $1.6 million, so we can fund the storm damage from that $1.6 million."

And while there are only 64 fiber customers on the south shore, Coleman said it goes to the commitment the PUD made, which is to own, operate and maintain the fiber optic system. Rebuilding was part of that commitment.

Of course, there is the potential to add more customers in that area. Coleman said that is the case wherever they have fiber. But it is unlikely the PUD will ever be able to recoup this $650,000, which has been the issue with the fiber program all along. Under the current constraints, the fiber would have never been extended to Lake Wenatchee in first place, due to the cost and lack of customers.

Rebuilding the fiber system at the south shore is an extensive process because it was completely destroyed by the falling trees. First, the PUD will have to remove all the existing fiber on the south shore. Once all the fiber and damaged attachments have been removed and hauled away, they then can start back with the rebuild process.

"We will be re-stringing the fiber, then patching it to the fiber terminal. We have to make all the intermediate splices, then go back. We do what is called a mid-space splice," he said. "That is where the access for the individual customer homes comes out of."

Colmeman said this is an extensive amount of work to get the system back up with all the splicing and drops to the individual homes. And then to test and accept all of that.

A total of 791 customers scattered through the Lake Wenatchee and Plain area have damaged fiber which must be repaired. In many cases, the fiber is off the poles, but still working. Over the next two to three months, Coleman said they will be going back through the entire system to restore it to pre-storm conditions.

The total damage to the fiber system at Plain and Lake Wenatchee is around $1 million. The bid process to secure fiber repair materials and contractor to do the work has begun. It should take up to seven weeks for that process, plus another two weeks for evaluation and awarding of contracts. Rebuilding the system will take another 10-12 weeks to complete.

On Jan. 26, the PUD held a public meeting at Lake Wenatchee which drew around 120 people. Most were interested in the timelines for rebuilding the electricity and fiber infrastructure damaged by the storm.

The plan all along for the PUD was to add 600 new fiber customers in 2013. But with all their resources tied up with the restoration in the Lake Wenatchee-Plain area, it did not make sense to begin working with new customers when they had all these other customers out of service, he said.

A temporary delay on the new services was put in place, Coleman said, to give them a chance to finish some of the restoration work and get a contractor working on the south shore. At the Feb. 4 Chelan County PUD Board of Commissioners meeting, Coleman said the plan was to start new hook-ups again in mid-March.

Ian Dunn can be reached at 548-5286 or

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