City moves to bring facilities online with fiber optic web

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The city is looking to untangle its fiber-optic network web.

To that end, the Public Works Committee of the City Council Tuesday recommended spending up to $44,000 over the next year for equipment that would put various Plymouth Utilities facilities and City Hall on the already-finished portion of the city’s fiber-optic net.

City Administrator Brian Yerges and Director of Public Works Bill Immich told the committee that the city-owned fiber-optic network has already been partially installed, but that electric substations, sewage lift stations and other utilities facilities that it runs by are not connected to it.

The city needs hardware to connect those sites to the network, Yerges said.

“It would be like having cable come in to your house but not having a cable box to connect to it,” Yerges said of the current situation.

Connecting the lift stations and electric substations would require switches and other equipment that will cost around $44,000, he said.

Connecting facilities as far-flung as the electric substation in Johnsonville and the lift station on County PP to the Plymouth Utilities Operations Center would enable the utilities to operate its SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system over the fiber-optic at much faster speeds than is possible currently over telephone lines.

“SCADA replaced operators (at the utilities) and when you think of the savings there, the system is more than paying for itself,” Immich explained.

The first phase of connecting the utilities facilities has already begun, he added. That will connect the wastewater treatment plant with the operations center.

Yerges said that there are still three more phases of the fiber-optic network yet to be installed to complete a loop of the city and connect to all city-owned facilities.

The city bonded for construction of the complete fiber-optic system six years ago, he added.

Completing the loop would enable the city to bring all of the water wells on line with the SCADA system as well, he added.

But he advised that before the city proceed with completing the network, a consultant should be hired to advise the city on how to proceed with the network.

“Before we plan to build the rest of this loop, I think we really need to sit down and evaluate the whole thing,” Yerges told the committee. “I don’t think city staff should be making the decision on whether we’re going to be a fiber utility. At the end of the day, this is a big expense, a big project.”

He pointed out that about $750,000 to $1 million has already been spent on the first four phases of the network, with three left to install.

Among other possibilities, the fiber-optic network could be used for remote reading of smart residential and commercial electric meters by Plymouth Utilities.

“That is a big project, about 1,800 meters,” Yerges admitted.

“That’s a question the consultant could look at as well,” Immich added.

When the fiber-optic network was first proposed more than a decade ago, there was talk of connecting schools to the network as well, Yerges related.

There could be a potential for savings for the school district in that case, he said, both for cheaper Internet access and voice over Internet phone capability.

“But obviously, a large capital investment would be need by the school district to make that possible,” Yerges added.

“We need to be all on the same page,” Yerges concluded. “I don’t think the plan was all laid out in front and we may need a consultant to tell us where or what we can do. This is a very big technical issue for us.”

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