Newry selectmen discussed the town’s current broadband plan and future changes that could happen at their meeting October 1.
Town Administrator Amy Bernard asked if there would be any interest in extending broadband coverage to the rest of the area.
Currently, some residents of Newry have little to no phone service depending on where they live. Despite this, the cost in tax dollars would be a lot and that would not include the monthly service charges.
Another idea was to install service into an existing tower. The estimated cost would be $182,000. The service would get wireless to 30 percent of underserved people in Newry. If the tower received wireless it would cover 80 percent of Bethel. However, Bernard said wireless would only be a short-term solution and that it may only last another decade.
Selectman Jim Largess wondered how many houses are underserved.
“There has to be hundreds and hundreds of houses that are underserved or just don’t get it at all,” Bernard said.
Bernard used the Peaks at Sunday River and houses beyond the Branch Road toward Grafton as examples of households that have little or no coverage. Bernard estimated that there are close to 150 homes total.
Largess calculated it will cost around $1,200 per home. He wondered if the expense is worth it moving forward.
“We want to understand what the benefits are and what the cost is and what it looks like five to 10 to 15 years from now,” Largess said.
Largess emphasized that more people are starting to work from home and that getting coverage to those in need is important. He said he just thinks their could be a cheaper way.
“If it’s $1,200 a house, that just seems like a lot of money,” Largess said. “If we’re just going to run a wire or cable or fiber from the Sunday River road to the Peaks, is that $180,000?”
Bernard estimated that it would cost between $30-40,000 to do it.
Bernard also said she had been in touch with Manager of Economic Development at Community Concepts Mia Purcell, who suggested that the town should work with other providers in the area. Bernard explained that there is already fiber in the area and that she hopes the town can work with those providers to expand the fiber.
Selectman Gary Wight thought a possible public hearing would help out.
“Get the Peaks, Nordic Knoll and some of these other homes that don’t have it and have them come and give their input, whether they would really use it or who wouldn’t use it,” Wight said.
Selectmen plan to ask Purcell to come explain the first steps of a possible expansion.
In other business, selectmen discussed with Mike Field of Fields Plumbing and Heating on having a propane tank installed. One of the main concerns was what volume of the tank the town should have.
The generator used at the Newry Grange Hall would need at least two 100 gallon tanks minimum to vaporize correctly, according to Field. Selectmen also asked about when the tank could be refilled in case an extended power outage were to happen.
Bernard cited last October’s wind storm as an example and said that the grange used between 50-60 gallons in the span of a couple of days. Bernard asked if community energy would be able to fill the tanks at any given time if another powerful storm were to occur.
“Is it a day? Is it five days? Is it an ice storm? I guess I can’t answer for Community Energy,” Field said.
Field added that he believes Community Energy would send a truck up if the tanks were to empty during a storm.
“As long as they can refill it and keep it running that’s all I care about,” Selectmen Tink Conkwright said.
Field said he’d contact Community Energy and ask if they would be able to get a truck up in time or whether it’d be easier to have a 500 gallon tank installed.
“It’s kind of their call, but I need to be able to tell them what you’d like to see, you want it to go five days, three days,” Field said.
“It definitely has to go more than three,” Bernard said, mentioning that the outage could happen on Friday or Monday, causing a three-day weekend.
A motion was made by Conkwright to agree with whatever Community Energy recommends for tank size and selectmen unanimously approved the motion. Conkwright added that it will have to last a minimum of five days in zero temperatures.
Field said he’d be in contact with Community Energy to get their suggestion.
Selectmen reviewed a list of repairs needed at numerous town properties including the Grange, the Town Office and the North Newry Church.
New signs were recently added to the Fire Department, Grange and Town Office.
Largess and Wight thought that the condition of the church should be at the top of the list. Both said that the fixing the roof should be the top priority and then repairing the foundation should come next. The roof currently has a leak.
Code Enforcement Officer Dave Bonney laid out an estimate of how much the cost would be to repair the roof and foundation. Foundation work included vegetation, draining and a crawl space. Bonney said it’d be close to $30,000. The work to the building would not start until 2019, and selectmen said they’d have to budget for the money.
“We need to secure the building by doing the roof and the foundation and I think we probably need to set up a committee and see what you want to do with the building,” Bernard said. “If you just want to keep it for posterity than we probably don’t need to go full fledge on electrical, if you’re not going to have people in there, their is no liability.”
Bernard said conflicts would only arise with the insurance company if functions were held there. She thinks the amount of spending should be contingent on how often residents use the church.
Selectmen opted to get estimates on the work. Bernard said the town will have to review its purchasing policy and then go out to bid for it.
“I think it’s worth going through that process, not trying to add work but we got four to five months, we’re trying to have this for a March meeting,” Largess said.
Bernard reminded selectmen that bids usually last only 30 days and the soonest possible date to start work wouldn’t be until July 1 of next year.
Bernard posed the idea of setting aside $30,000 and going to bid in April or May for a July 1 starting date. If it were to go over, Bernard said a special town meeting will be held before they decide to commit.
Selectmen will next meet on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at 5 p.m. at the Newry Town Office.