$400K grant supports redundant fiber network for five West County towns

  • Colrain Selectboard member Michael Slowinski with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito at the Community Compact Cabinet Municipal Fiber Grant program awards ceremony held at Taunton City Hall on June 3. Contributed Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 7/5/2022 3:19:20 PM

The five towns of Colrain, Charlemont, Heath, Leyden and Rowe received a $400,000 grant for the creation of a redundant municipal fiber network between the towns.

“To enhance our service, we needed to interconnect the fiber networks,” explained Colrain Selectboard member Michael Slowinski.

With this grant, the towns can ensure that if a telephone wire gets knocked down or catches on fire, residents will still have broadband internet and phone access. The internet is rated at up to 1,000 megabits per second.

“We had a tree fall on Adamsville Road that burned through all the cables for the entire town,” said Slowinski. “It turned into a 12-hour outage where there was no communication.”

When there are outages, there is no way to call emergency services.

The $400,000 grant funds the addition of five telecommunications huts, one in each town. The structures will act as “the nerve center for each town,” according to Slowinski. This equipment will automatically switch sources if there are failures in the main broadband network.

“It’s the same type of equipment used in the electric substation,” Slowinski said.

The committee that applied for the grant has been working on this project for a year and a half. The group is comprised of one volunteer representative from each town, mostly Municipal Light Plant managers. Although the group does not have an official name, Slowinski said they call themselves the Northern Tier Cluster.

Much of the planning had already been done by the five-town group when the grant application process opened.

“It was the fortunate timing to have that all ready at the time the state opened up the grant for submittal,” said David Gordon, a member of Heath’s Municipal Light Board. “We had been working on this plan and proposal from Westfield Gas and Electric for many months, and put a lot of work into figuring out equipment and engineering services.”

Now that the money has been received, the towns hope to finish the project by the end of this calendar year. Slowinski said it may take longer due to supply chain shortages.

“Everything under our control can be done this calendar year, but we are dependent upon the equipment for the huts,” Slowinski said.

This grant is part of Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito’s $13 million Community Compact Cabinet Municipal Fiber Grant program. The $400,000 grant is predicted to cover all the costs to the five towns.

“This grant covers the cost for the taxpayers,” Slowinski said.

Likewise, Gordon stressed that this grant allows the towns to use more “resilient and reliable equipment” because tax dollars became less of a concern.

This grant is the second largest sum of money distributed to municipalities through the Community Compact Cabinet grants for fiscal year 2022. A grant awards ceremony was held at Taunton City Hall on June 3.

“There were professional planners at the awards ceremony that were getting $20,000,” Slowinski recounted. “They were miffed that these five small towns got so much money.”

There is a history of cooperation and collaboration among these five towns. They also have an emergency services agreement.

“For me, being relatively new to Heath,” Gordon said, “it has been a great experience to work with the four other towns to make something that is such a cooperative benefit to the community.”

Contact Bella Levavi
at blevavi@recorder.com
or 413-930-4579.

An earlier version of the story attributed the wrong speaker for several quotes. Colrain Selectboard member Michael Slowinski was heavily involved in acquiring the grant for the municipal fiber redundancy.


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