CAMDEN — The Camden Select Board heard updates Aug. 9 on the Midcoast Internet Development Corporation, recently installed Public Landing parking kiosks and cleanup of the tannery.

Select Board Chair Bob Falciani is on the board of the MIDC, with the goal to bring fiber and broadband internet access to unserved and underserved people in the town.

Camden, along with Rockport, are founding members of the Midcoast Internet Coalition, which also includes the Midcoast towns of Cushing, Hope, Lincolnville, Northport, Owls Head, Rockland, South Thomaston, Thomaston and Union. Other “guest” municipalities involved in meetings are from Hancock, Kennebec, Lincoln and Waldo counties, according to the MIC website.

The MIDC was approved by Camden voters, but, according to Falciani, the “potential for Camden residents to see a benefit from the corporation in the near term is very limited” and would take “years” to get the operation moving.

Sophie Romana asked Falciani what he suggested, to which he replied there are no financial implications to the town of Camden, but it does raise the priority to the town regarding what options there are to getting internet to underserved people “while I’m still alive.” Falciani said ordering fiber optic cable can take between 10 and 11 months until it is delivered.

Falciani continued, saying, the town needs to consider whether the town has its own utility district, which it will run and service versus having a private company come in and put in internet service.

“We are in a time period where most people rely on high-speed internet to do jobs and work from home,” Falciani said. Romana said school should be included in that statement, as well.

Tom Hedstrom asked if the board can see how other local towns have done it, and Falciani said it’s been with private companies (LCI, Great Works Internet, Consolidated Communications). Falciani noted Rockland is being built out by Consolidated Communications.

Hedstrom then asked if municipalities make agreements with private contractors for 100% coverage or was it a stipulation. Falciani said it has been done, but Camden is talking about creating a utility district (MIDC). Falciani said if the town were to raise $1.5 million, Camden could create its own utility district and put in its own fiber.

The town would then maintain the fiber, but Alison McKellar commented the town could contract out the maintenance to a private company. GWI currently does that for MIDC to install and maintain the fiber, and it’s just a function of the take rate — how many people in the town take the service and pay the rate for it — which defines the income generated compared to the investment.

The board noted MIDC would be a municipally owned service but also a competitive market to allow multiple companies to lease internet service provider (ISP) space.

Town Manager Audra Caler said the challenge is the denser town areas will always have connectivity to internet because it’s financially viable, but it’s the rural parts of Camden where the trouble lies.

Romana asked what can be done for people without access in the meantime, to which Falciani said someone needs to build out fiber to those locations.

Caler said, “It’s how aggressive we want to be. We could take that on and build out a fiber network and lease space out to an ISP.” Caler said they have a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) that could pay for the debt service on the network, so options are available.

Romana said it would be worth it to study if everyone in Camden is currently connected. Falciani said that is the point of the MIDC, but MIDC is not going to be the mechanism.

“We need to evaluate alternative mechanisms, in my opinion,” Falciani said. “MIDC may not be what we initially perceived it to be, which would be the primarily short-term focus for the town of Camden, at this point.”

Public Landing parking kiosks

Caler provided an update on the newly installed parking kiosks at the Public Landing which have been operational for “about a week.”

Caler noted the kiosks have been effective for turnover and generally discouraging people from parking there on a long-term basis, which was one of the goals with the project.

The kiosks average $600 per day in revenue and if they stay active for the three-month test period through October, revenues would be around $54,000. Caler noted the total figure could drop as usage of the Landing declines in September and October.

Caler said she fielded questions about paying to extend time, but noted the ordinance would need to be changed as it caps the total time at three hours.

McKellar said she heard from people about parking there in the morning, leaving, and then come back in the afternoon and not get a ticket. Romana said she thinks the system is built that way.

Romana also said she spoke with the parking officer at the Landing and he said the program is “going great” and people thank him because it’s easier to find a parking spot. Romana also said she has received really positive feedback from the community.

Tannery cleanup

A bid for the tannery cleanup was given to Ransom Environmental Consulting for a total cost of $124,485 for soil removal, landscape and path cover systems. Caler said this is a “fantastic price.”

The bid necessitates $18,000 of matching funds to cover the entire costs, which Caler said is “doable.”

Work will start the “third or fourth week of August” and take about three weeks to complete.

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