Windsor asked to back broadband hookup plan, add to legal expenses

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WINDSOR — Folks in Windsor will meet after dark Monday to talk about bringing beams of light into their homes 24 hours a day.

In one of two articles on a Special Town Meeting warrant, residents will be asked to support a plan to provide discounts to homes that because of their locations will be costly to connect to a new town-owned fiber-optic network. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.

The issue concerns "drops," the name for customer connections from the fiber system Windsor is about to construct along its roads.

The expense of running fiber up long driveways can run into thousands of dollars. Towns like Windsor that are building fiber networks are shaping plans to buffer those high costs to individuals as best they can, in part to ensure that a high percentage of customers opts for the long-awaited high-speed internet service.

The town's Municipal Light Plant, which is overseeing the construction project, backs a policy to provide credit to customers who live unusually far from the network's route — and thus require long "drops."

Select Board member Douglas McNally, the town's point person on broadband, will brief residents on that policy. The network will be constructed for $625,000 by TriWire Engineering Solutions, the contractor working with Westfield Gas & Electric. The Westfield utility is helping many unserved towns that opted to build and own their broadband networks, which will be paid for by state grants and town borrowing.

Also Monday, residents will be asked to move as much as $27,000 from the town's free cash account to cover legal expenses.

Though the town budgeted $20,000 for legal work this fiscal year, two situations have pushed expenses up dramatically.

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The chief one is the need to continue to defend a civil lawsuit filed in 2017 by a former Select Board chairman, Tim Crane, and his spouse, Patty. The lawsuit seeks to have the town no longer maintain some roads that pass near the couple's home.

"A lot of it is due to the legal case," Kim Tobin, the current Select Board chairwoman, said of the added legal costs.

Last summer, Tobin hosted a Town Hall information session on the Crane litigation, in part to gauge how residents felt about preserving public access to town roads. She cautioned then that additional costs of defending the suit could run to $10,000 or more. Part of that cost is roughly $5,000 paid to a surveyor to conduct research to bolster the town's position that it has a right to maintain the disputed sections of road.

Some of the $27,000 needed for the legal account is related to the town's move to condemn two properties in Windsor, Tobin said.

Though officials were already defending the Crane lawsuit last spring when they set this year's budget, they did not increase the legal line item, believing it already ample. Officials had beefed up the account in recent years in response to a proposed natural gas pipeline, which was withdrawn.

"We didn't bump it up for the litigation," Tobin said.

Efforts to settle the Crane dispute have so far failed. But Tobin said she is hopeful that the case may be resolved before it goes to trial. The Land Court in Boston is scheduled to hear testimony this spring.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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