SEARSPORT —  Select Board members approved a preliminary bid to install a fiber-optic network in the town at their Feb. 15 meeting, giving Town Manager James Gillway the green light to accept a contract from Consolidated Communications.

Gillway said the town solicited bids for the installation and had received two responses, with the second offer coming from Axiom Technologies. Both companies, he said, presented plans at a recent workshop, but “more details need to be rooted out.”

“In order to move to the next step, we need to make that preliminary motion to accept a contract,” he said. Before signing the contract, Gillway said he would share the details with the board.

In a conversation with The Republican Journal Feb. 17, Gillway said everyone in town will be able to sign up for broadband. One of the sticking points, he said, was that he wanted to make sure even people with long driveways could afford to bring fiber to their homes. “I am insistent they have a reasonable installation fee,” he said.

The town will own the “backbone” of the network and Consolidated will maintain and service the utility. The price of installation, Gillway estimated, is over $2 million, but he added that the town will be eligible for a ConnectMaine Authority grant.

Approving the preliminary bid is not binding, Gillway said. The board did not vote to execute the bid, but rather to move the process forward. “We won’t sign any contracts until we know the deal is where we want it to be.”

In the past, Gillway said, the town negotiated a similar contract with Time Warner for cable and internet. It is a process, he said, and takes some time. “This moves us to the next level,” he said.

In other business, the board approved spending $90,606 worth of American Rescue Plan Act funds and up to $50,500 from reserves to purchase three municipal vehicles.

Gillway said finding replacement vehicles for the town has been a real challenge. Two town trucks, one for the Wastewater Department and the other for the Highway Department, are broken and not repairable. Additionally, the Police Department needs a pickup truck.

The Ford dealership told him if he ordered a brand-new truck, delivery would not happen until late 2023 or 2024 because of delays. One of the biggest problems dealers have been having is canceled orders, he said. People are placing orders, he said, the factory responds that it cannot build it when the customer wants it, and then the customer cancels the order.

Gillway said he found an F-350 truck with less than 40,000 miles for the Highway Department that can accommodate a sander in the back and a plow in the front for $42,513. For the Wastewater Department, he found a Dodge with less than 5,000 miles and still under warranty for $52,980. And for the police, he found a Ford Interceptor-style vehicle with an F-150 truck bed for $36,106.

Feb. 1 Select Board meeting highlights

With the state currently engaged in studying where best to situate a facility aimed at supporting a nascent floating offshore wind industry including the Port of Searsport, two camps have emerged, according to Gillway.

People either want to get the facility built immediately, “wherever the heck it wants to be,” he said, or they want it developed somewhere else. In an attempt to “get ahead of the fray,” Gillway proposed a resolution at the Feb. 1 Select Board meeting in support of the state’s open process of evaluation.

“…We want to see this fully explored and want an open and transparent process…,” he said. “And it has to be complete before anyone makes any judgment.”

Board member Mark Bradstreet agreed with Gillway. “We can’t take an opinion on whether it’s at Mack Point or Sears Island until we hear all the testimony and the proposal.”

The resolution Gillway read said state and federal entities are committed to analyzing the data and science and preparing a plan that minimizes impacts of floating offshore wind. “The Searsport Select Board is committed to ensuring any and all proposed projects are given a fair and impartial process of evaluation before being acted upon,” he said.

Select Board member Steve Tanguay added that the Select Board should honor this process while looking out for the best welfare of residents and the local business community.

Board Chairman Doug Norman said the resolution is about the process, adding, “We have no say whether it goes to Mack Point or not.” On this issue, he noted, “We don’t own the land. … It will be decided by the studies… .”

Gillway said the resolution encourages the state to conduct a fair and impartial process. “This does not say we are part of that process.”

The Select Board approved the resolution.

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