Fiber-optic network pact nearly untangled, Lewiston Tribune, April 13, 2017

Cross-state ports finally work out snags to agreement to share data pipe infrastructure

By ELAINE WILLIAMS of the Tribune

It took months of meetings and collaboration among eight entities, but the ports of Lewiston and Clarkston are now poised to link their fiber-optic networks on the Southway Bridge in June.

The Idaho port approved an agreement Wednesday outlining how it will share the infrastructure with the Port of Clarkston, which is expected to give the green light to the document today.

The connection will make it possible to reroute communications easily if the line is cut without waiting days for experts from places like Seattle to arrive to fix problems, said Clarkston Port Manager Wanda Keefer.

“This is pretty exciting to be at this point,” she said.

Both ports have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into networks they lease at a set rate to large employers and companies that provide internet, cellular telephone and other telecommunications services, taking care to make sure the networks are compatible.

The Lewiston network reaches Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport, downtown Lewiston, St. Joseph Regional Medical Center and Lewis-Clark State College. Clarkston’s network goes to the city’s school district and Tri-State Memorial Hospital.

Plans to unite the two systems hit a snag last summer when the Port of Clarkston examined options on the Southway Bridge and discovered CenturyLink had 20 conduits on the span across the Snake River. The conduits were installed in the early 1980s when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the bridge. They originally belonged to Pacific Northwest Bell, CenturyLink’s predecessor. The bridge was later turned over to Nez Perce and Asotin counties and the cities of Lewiston and Clarkston.

However, no lease governed the relationship between CenturyLink and the four local jurisdictions. Those entities spent months negotiating, and in recent weeks elected officials from both counties and both cities signed off on an agreement. It makes the city of Lewiston’s Public Works Department the primary point of contact for CenturyLink and allows any one of the bridge owners to veto a lease or sale of the conduit. CenturyLink is not required to pay to be on the bridge.

Once that issue was settled, the two ports were able to finalize a separate agreement, which designates the Port of Lewiston as the lead agency for the installation of the conduit on the Southway Bridge.

However, each port will be responsible for the costs of construction, maintenance and operations of the line on their side of the river.

“It allows the fiber to be one complete piece without any splicing,” said Assistant Port Manager Jaynie Bentz.

In other business, port commissioners heard a report about an expansion at the Lewis-Clark Terminal from Manager Scott Zuger.

The terminal is constructing two new steel bins that will be in excess of 100 feet tall, Zuger said. They are expected to be finished this fall and reduce the length of time grain has to be stored in a pile outdoors.

Zuger declined to share the exact size of the addition. The terminal is one of the largest grain-storage facilities in the region, with a capacity of 7.5 million bushels.

Next year, Lewis-Clark Terminal may construct a malting barley facility. The operation under consideration would be leased by CHS Primeland, one of the three agricultural cooperatives that owns the Lewis Clark Terminal, said CHS Primeland General Manager Ken Blakeman.

CHS Primeland has one of two facilities in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley – at its Snake River Avenue location – where rail cars can be loaded with grain, Blakeman said. That site is used primarily for malt barley since the companies that process grain for brewing beer are normally set up to accept shipments by rail, not barge or truck, he said.

CHS Primeland is looking at a number of new options because it doesn’t like moving rail cars between Snake River Avenue, a busy street, and Kiwanis Park, with a skate board park and playground equipment for small children, Blakeman said.

The cooperative moves about 20 cars a month but it does so very late at night or early in the morning to minimize the chance of accidents, Blakeman said. If rail cars could be loaded in an industrial setting, he said, it might be possible to expand because the hours of operation wouldn’t be as limited.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.