City, Utilities tackle concerns, projects in town hall meeting

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Colorado Springs Utilities COO Travas Deal, who will soon become interim CEO, speaks with residents about Utilities initiatives during a Nov. 15 town hall.

At a Nov. 15 town hall, Colorado Springs Utilities COO Travas Deal addressed a new council ordinance — proposed by Utilities — that would make it harder for developments outside city limits to tap city water supplies.

Deal also talked about anticipated reductions in natural gas and electric rates and answered public concerns about potential property damage as Utilities begins to build out its $600 million fiber network infrastructure.

The town hall for residents in the city’s Northeast, led by City officials and Utilities staff, was the first open meeting in a tour of the Springs’ six City Council districts to engage the public on ongoing projects and issues.

Deal, who will soon take over as interim CEO as Utilities CEO Aram Benyamin, who announced his departure on Nov. 7, said the proposed water ordinance would establish “parameters” for council and the Utility Board (both are composed of the same members) when considering water service extensions.

It would also require six of nine councilors to approve extending the city’s water service boundary, reported the Colorado Springs Independent, the Business Journal’s sister publication, on Oct. 26.

“We live in a high desert, so water is always going to be a scarce commodity,” Deal said. “How do we manage that? Like [City Councilor at-large] Wayne [Williams] said, I think our forefathers long before us did a great job of making sure we had enough water to get us to this point. Our job is to make sure we continue to manage that as we move forward.”

Two attendees also asked the city when an extension of Banning Lewis Parkway to East Woodmen Road would be completed — much of that project will be funded and led by Banning Lewis Ranch (BLR) developer Oakwood Homes, said Travis Easton, the city’s director of public works. The parkway, which is a thoroughfare on the east side of the BLR subdivision, currently dead-ends before Woodmen. Easton said the developer’s plan is to connect the roads by summer 2023, but the “housing market could impact that.”

For the Springs Utilities fiber project, construction began in September on the “backbone” portion of the fiber network, and contractor ADB Companies is currently working just east of Interstate 25, roughy to Union and Powers boulevards, from Woodmen Road to the south and city limits to the north.

If there is damage to utility lines while contractors are digging and working on the fiber infrastructure, one attendee asked, how will that get fixed?

Brian Wortinger, Springs Utilities’ telecommunication enterprise manager, said there have been no damaging “strikes” yet from the fiber buildout, but with 2,000 miles of construction in total, “we do anticipate … we’re going to hit something.”

“Let’s just assume that the negligence is on behalf of ADP or one of their subcontractors — that’s who’s building for us — they own that, so they pay for that repair.

“…That would not be the homeowner in those instances, ever,” he said.

Wortinger added that if repairs aren’t made “within a certain number of hours” (he couldn’t recall exactly how much time is stated in the ADP contract), Springs Utilities itself would make the repairs and bill the responsible party.

He explained that as construction enters neighborhoods for “fiber-to-the-curb” installations, residents will be notified with door hangers at least three days prior to the start of work. The hangers will have contacts for residents to reach with questions and issues.

“Before they touch the dirt in the front of your house, they’re going to take a photo of it, and then after they finish, they’re also going to take a photo,” Wortinger said. “We do that for restoration because we hold our contractors accountable to leaving the ground at least as good as it was when they first arrived there.”

As for the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) leasing space on the Utilities fiber network (Utilities itself is not providing internet), Ting Internet remains the only one contracted thus far. Wortinger said Utilities is negotiating with four additional entities interested in leasing fiber — three of them are ISPs, and the fourth is “a different kind of entity.”

Wortinger declined to tell the Business Journal what kind, or to share the names of companies under discussion for the leases. He did say that Springs Utilities is still talking with Google Fiber about a potential lease.

He and Utilities Chief Planning and Finance Officer Tristan Gearhart remain confident that the fiber leasing model will pay for the cost of the overall project — now confirmed to be $600 million — and provide revenue to pay for other Utilities expenses (although the Indy has previously reported that this model did not work out this way in other cities that followed it).

“Which is why I could get on board with this model,” Gearhart told the Business Journal. “They’re finding ways to be able to at least cover it, but also, we get enough revenue sources coming in, and it’s starting to pay for other projects that are outside of just the fiber at that point, … if we’re bringing them enough revenue.”

Deal said next the city-Utilities town hall is being planned for January, in Councilor Nancy Henjum’s District 5.

More than 30 people attended the town hall at Inspiration View Elementary School in BLR, and about a dozen of them were city and Springs Utilities staff members. It started with remarks from Councilor for District 6 Mike O’Malley and Williams, followed by Benyamin and Deal from the Utilities side.

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