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Public Works Director Answers Questions About Fiberoptic Microtrenching

Numerous readers have submitted letters and comments to The Observer expressing concern (and sometimes dismay) over the Fiberoptic mictrotrenching project that is occurring throughout the City by the company SiFi Networks for a project called Fullerton Fibercity, in which cuts have been made in many city streets  to install the new fiberoptic cable underground. Readers have sent in photos of work, which show damage to our already beleagured streets. We reached out to Fullerton’s Director of Public Works Meg McWade with some questions about this project. Here are her responses, followed by a response from SiFi about the project.

Photo of fiberoptic microtrenching by Jane Rands.

What are the problems you have seen with the installation thus far and how they have been resolved?

There have been several challenges with the implementation of this private project over the past year.  For example, SiFi and their contractors initially had difficulties in matching the color of their trench fill material to the adjacent pavement material as well as keeping their trench material contained within the trench. The uniformity of the trench cuts was also an initial concern, particularly when they were working on older and therefore more brittle pavement areas.

Furthermore, because they were not a traditional utility agency, SiFi’s team did not have a great deal of experience with the typical requirements for working in the public right-of-way in terms of traffic control and public notification.

This necessitated a great deal of oversight by the City, and City staff have been working closely with SiFi to improve the quality of their trenches as well as their public outreach program and will continue to work closely with the contractor to improve the timeliness of their repair work.

Photo of fiberoptic microtrenching by Jose Diaz.

Would you also please explain the impacts to the roads and future remedies we can expect if the project causes accelerated deterioration of the roads?

The vast majority of the fiber will be installed at the edge of the street pavement.  Because this construction method is a relatively new technique, the City reached out to other cities and consultants that have experienced this method prior to construction.  Based on the feedback received, this method is expected to minimize any possible impacts or increased damage to the adjacent pavement. It should be noted that if pavement is damaged during construction operations, the contractor is required to address the damage.  As with other utility companies, the City holds the company responsible for workmanship of trenches. For this project, the City will be holding a five-year bond to warranty the workmanship of the construction.

Will there be any repaving as a result of the installation?

There is no street repaving planned for this project, as the microtrenching does not necessitate a full repaving of the street. However, when pavement is damaged beyond a reasonable amount adjacent to the trench, SiFi is responsible for the repair of that pavement area.

Are there costs to the City tracked to this project, such as your staff time, that will be recovered from SiFi?

City project staff resources and consultant services are expended on this project through inspection, plan check, project oversight, and road closure assistance with the Police Department.  These costs are tracked and Sifi is invoiced.  SiFi is responsible to reimburse the City for these costs.

Will the funds received from SiFi or the companies leasing the fiber infrastructure go to the general fund or are they earmarked for roads or some other purpose?

As mentioned previously, the payment from SiFi reimburses the City for costs, which are typically within the General Fund.  The City does not receive any funding from companies leasing the fiber.  If the agreement is extended into the third term, the City could gain 20% of the net profit from SiFi. However, that third term is after 50 years.  The City primarily undertook this effort in 2014 as a means to bring fiber infrastructure to the entire City.

What benefits were negotiated for the City to have access to the network for communications throughout the City?

Under the agreement, specific City facilities (approximately 37, including community centers, fire stations, reservoirs, and other facilities) will be connected to the SiFi infrastructure so the City has fiber connectivity for its use.

Response from SiFi

“SiFi Networks is investing in Fullerton to bring a citywide state-of-the-art fiber network to its residents and businesses. It will be among the fastest networks in the U.S., and its open-access design means future service providers will be able to use the infrastructure for smart city applications and other options without additional disruption. A similar project in Chatanooga, Tenn. generated nearly $2.7 billion for the community in one decade creating 9,500 jobs. While our micro-trenching installation process is the fastest and most minimally disruptive way to install fiber (cutting narrow pathways for the cable, swiftly covering it, and typically moving past houses in minutes), we understand the process is not without inconvenience.

Though we believe the issues you’ve spotlighted have been addressed (see below photo of quality), we thank you for ensuring your readers are aware that this project is privately financed; that we have guaranteed our workmanship to ensure it meets the City’s criteria; and that while we continually push the contractor to reach the highest standards, the original road condition dictates the appearance of the final remediation.

Our hope is the benefit of having a choice of ISP (meaning the opportunity to get faster connectivity at a better price point) plus the overwhelming economic and social benefits of this critical infrastructure will be seen as a win for the City long-term.”

Image of fiberoptic microtrenching submitted by SiFi.

12 replies »

  1. When will crews be coming out to remove the permanent paint on many of the sidewalks? Crews marking utlities used permanent paint instead of the fading paint. Neighborhood still looks like graffiti taggers came through months after the trenching was completed.

    • Good question. You could reach out to the providers themselves via the link in previous comment, or call Fullerton Public Works department at (714) 738-6845.