Fiber network project heads to town meeting

The townwide network project is now headed to a special town meeting vote in early March.

At its meeting Dec. 17, the Board of Selectmen unanimously recommended submitting the $1.5-million, three-year project to voters for the final decision. The project would link the town, library and school facilities with a “fully redundant” underground fiber network, according to First Selectman Bill Brennan.

Because the town is currently engaged in “active negotiations with Yankee Gas,” time is of the essence, Mr. Brennan said. While the trenches are open for the Yankee Gas lines, the fiber could be installed at the same time.

Mr. Brennan said the project has had “extensive review” and was the subject of a public information meeting in November. The project was first proposed last year, but was withdrawn from the annual town meeting agenda in May to “achieve more consensus,” according to Mr. Brennan.

A committee of town officials was also charged with revisiting the proposal. The committee was composed of Sandy Dennies, the town’s chief financial officer; Jim Saxe, a member of the Board of Selectmen; Janice Hess of Wilton Library’s board of trustees; Laura Schwemm, a member of the Board of Education; and Al Alper, a Board of Finance member. The committee voted in November to recommend the plan after the public information meeting, but the vote was by a 3-2 margin, with Mr. Alper and Ms. Schwemm abstaining.

Mr. Alper expressed concern the library board of trustees and the Board of Education had not officially voted to support the project.

Since then, both boards have approved it, Mr. Brennan said.

The town also hired BlumShapiro, the largest regional accounting, tax and business consulting firm in New England, to review the plan. BlumShapiro issued a report that confirmed the findings of a study done last year by BVH, a consulting engineering firm based in Bloomfield — both strongly endorsing the fiber network plan.

BlumShapiro’s report has been posted on the town website for several months. The report highlights the ability of the underground fiber network project to allow the town to continue to function during emergencies, and also protect Wilton’s “critical information assets” or “core or critical pieces of information” during disasters and emergencies.

However, the Board of Finance, which did not endorse the project last year, continued to have questions at its regular meeting Tuesday. After a presentation by Jeff Ziplow of BlumShapiro, Warren Serenbetz, finance chair, asked if the fiber-optic technology will become outdated in the near future.

Mr. Ziplow replied it would not, and said Verizon Wireless and Google have just launched new fiber projects, which showed their faith in the continued relevance of the technology.

Mr. Serenbetz also asked Mr. Ziplow for more information and cost options for the plan.

Lynne Vanderslice, Board of Finance member, also asked for “more of a conversation and more options about the Cloud” as a possible option. “I get so many questions about that,” she said.

Mr. Ziplow agreed to return to the Board of Finance with the information.

The Board of Finance will take a vote on the plan, but it is nonbinding and advisory only, as is the protocol with all bonded capital items.

Mr. Brennan said the date for the special town meeting on the project will be set in the near future.