OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
December 3, 2019
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:00 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner and Mitchell Green were present; Bradley Rafus was absent. Stephan Chait, Ray Combs, Tristan Roberts, Chris Lynch (Matrix), David Jones, and Robbin Gabriel were also present.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Mitch Green made a motion to approve the 11/19/19 regular meeting minutes as written. Lewis Sumner seconded the motion, which passed 2-0.
Sumner made a motion to approve the 11/23/19 special meeting minutes as written. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0.
Fiber Optic Broadband—Guest Chris Lynch (Matrix Design Group)
Tristan Roberts, who has been monitoring broadband expansion possibilities for Halifax, suggested that after guest speaker Chris Lynch’s presentation the meeting might address related issues, including reinstating the Town’s Broadband Committee. Lynch introduced himself as a representive of Matrix Design Group, a privately-owned East Hanover, New Jersey-based company that has been designing and building fiber optic networks for 25 years. The Matrix client list includes Bell Labs, Microsoft, Verizon, and AT&T. The company also designed and built the nine-town EC Fiber network in Central Vermont (the Barnard/Bethel/Sharon area, and a number of surrounding towns), then operated that network for the first three years.
Lynch went into detail about a current Matrix municipal network project underway in Petersham, Massachusetts, a town with similarities to Halifax. Petersham has 521 homes, 47 miles of road, and a large percentage of untaxable conservation land (including Quabbin Reservoir). Matrix has given presentations in Stamford, Readsboro, Marlboro, and Whitingham. Lynch noted that Wilmington is served by Duncan Cable, and Matrix is focused on providing coverage to unserved or underserved areas rather than competing with existing networks. Matrix looks for communities with about 500 homes, and with an average of six subscribers per mile. Tristan Roberts asked about the difference between number of homes and number of customers in those homes; Lynch said one home could have multiple subscribers. Sumner estimated Halifax has 500 housing units, but more road miles than Petersham (about 70); Lynch said roads without homes or with infrequently-used seasonal camps might be eliminated.
In the event of a partnership with Matrix, the Town would be responsible for providing housing for the necessary network equipment and for make-ready costs (right-of-way permissions, pole surveys, and inspections to determine whether poles meet standards). Lynch estimated—based on 493 housing units and a reduced road mileage of 47 miles—that Matrix would be investing about $2,000,000 in Halifax. Make-ready costs would be approximately $800,000; that figure includes a projected $100,000 investment to build housing for electronics. Roberts requested specifics on right-of-way costs. First item, said Lynch, is the pole survey. That determines how many poles there are, what is on the poles, and whether the poles are in compliance. Next is the creation of a route strand map; a plan laying out the most effective way to route the fiber. Then pole attachment applications must be submitted to the utility companies (Green Mountain Power in Halifax). GMP then estimates cost of the make-ready work, and performs that work after payment has been made. This process as outlined takes about six months. Putting the fiber itself in place is a faster process, averaging about a mile a day.
The town of Stamford has 393 homes, and Stephan Chait asked how many of those would have to sign up for service to meet Matrix criteria. Six per mile, responded Lynch, or 170. Would Matrix be able to support a multi-town communications union district?, asked David Jones. Lynch said yes, but he outlined some of the potential issues individual towns might encounter in joining forces. Jones made the point that if a district were formed, it would have to find start-up funding for the network project, as the towns themselves would not be responsible for that investment. There was extensive discussion of bonds, grants, loans, and, in general, what might and might not work for project funding. Towns with a Matrix fiber network have the option of buying the network after three years and either operating the system themselves or having Matrix continue to operate it. Individual subscriber costs in Stamford would be $95 a month (up to 50 Mbps) or $135 a month (up to 100 Mbps), with no data caps. David Jones questioned these speeds; his expectation is that fiber to a home would allow a gigabyte, and he asked for an explanation of what he described as a gating factor. Lynch said that while the equipment Matrix uses is indeed capable of much higher speeds, and in the near future changing video streaming specifications will require higher speeds, the average household does not need those speeds at present, and the cost of providing them would be prohibitive. Stephan Chait wondered about the future; will it be fiber, or something else? There’s talk about 5G, answered Lynch, but I firmly believe it will be fiber optics. He told Chait that the big advantage of fiber optics over satellite services like HughesNet or Viasat is that it’s much faster and there are no data caps. For a few more dollars a month, you can also eliminate your landline and cable, Roberts said. Lynch estimated the average household could have phone, TV, and high speed Internet in one package and save about $40 a month. Jones noted that a survey of residents would be useful in assessing the Town’s demand. He asked if Matrix had any type of survey template. I’m not a great believer in feasibility studies, Lynch responded. In Petersham, Matrix held several informational meetings, and attendance was high. They also did a town-wide mailing and placed an ad in the newspaper. The final vote at Petersham’s special town meeting was 199-7 in favor. Lynch said the fiber service installation charge was $400; $200 up front and $200 paid either at the start of service or spread over monthly invoices. Internet with VOIP (phone service) installation charge in $500; the additional cost pays for battery backup to keep phone service functioning during a power outage.
As Lynch made ready to depart, Tristan Roberts told the Board there is a lot of homework to do, including hearing from other vendors. He recommended re-activating the Halifax Broadband Committee, to include 4-6 people. Mitch Green suggested advertising for volunteers to serve, and the Board agreed. Roberts said he and David Jones were both willing to be on the committee. Gabriel will post notices, Jones offered to put an article in the Halifax Newsletter, and Roberts proposed making appointments at the first Selectboard meeting in January. Jones and Roberts have been attending Broadband Working Group meetings, and Jones said there is currently a lot of interest and momentum in neighboring towns. (Note: For additional details on the fiber optics discussion, see the link to David Jones’ notes at the bottom of this page.)
Stephan Chait—Staying Connected: Forest Blocks & Habitat Connectors
Stephan Chait handed out an informational sheet on the Staying Connected Initiative, an international group with a focus on natural resource management and wildlife connectivity. Chait is proposing a joint meeting of the Halifax Selectboard, Planning Commission, and Conservation Commission, to learn about the Initiative and what it means to us locally. He drew listeners’ attention to the section of the Halifax Town Plan (pp. 34-37) discussing forest blocks and habitat connectors, and said that this material was included in the Plan to satisfy Act 171 requirements. The Staying Connected Initiative regional territory includes most of New England and a portion of Canada (identified as the Northern Appalachian/Acadian Region). The organization’s goal is to promote a healthy and connected landscape beneficial to wildlife and humans. Chait said Vermont State Fish and Wildlife representatives are available to give a presentation at a local meeting exploring ways natural resources can help the town and vice versa. Chait asked whether the Selectboard would be open to the idea of having such a presentation at Town Meeting, when most Town officials and many residents are expected to be present. Green said that if the representatives were available (they might be attending their own town meetings), they could speak during the non-binding business section at the end of Town Meeting. (Note: Also see Staying Connected Initiative link at the bottom of this page.)
Sumner announced that after several executive sessions, the Selectboard has signed an agreement to purchase ten acres of land for a gravel bank. The acreage, currently owned by Brad and Peggy Rafus, shares a boundary with the Branch Road town-owned property on which the Town Garage is situated. Sumner told Chait that gravel has been extracted from the parcel in the past; it was owned by LaRock and Houghton in the 1960s, and they took gravel out, then again about 2009, when the old landfill washed out. What are the terms?, asked Roberts. $99,500 for ten acres, said Sumner. Rafus bought it in a private sale from a family member, so the Town did not have an earlier opportunity to make the purchase. Green said it would be much cheaper for the Town than buying gravel. We think we can get sand out of there, too, added Sumner. That will save wear and tear on the trucks, said Ray Combs. Last year we spent $24,000 to crush 5,000 yards on the Garage property, said Sumner, but we are pretty much out of that. If we had bought the gravel it would have cost over $100,000. We will put the proposal into the budget for Town Meeting, said Green. And it won’t be any more, added Sumner, because we have been spending $100,000 or more every year. In future years we’ll save money. We will need to get a subdivision from the Town, and hopefully will not need State permits because the land has been used for gravel before.
Hearing of Visitors
Stephan said the Conservation Commission would like to request a line item in the budget, for projects like the construction of a signboard at the recycling bins or a mailing to Halifax residents with information about household waste disposal or the emerald ash borer. Chait said the Commission has not yet come up with a figure, but he suggested $500. Chait also asked who built the bulletin board at Halifax Center; he is interested in learning how much it cost. Howard Smith built it, answered Sumner; he did it for us at no cost.
Selectboard’s Order to Treasurer for Payment
The Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer was reviewed and signed.
Correspondence was reviewed.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:52 p.m.