Cass County orders company to uninstall 50,000 feet of cable from right-of-way near Horace
Town, schools were hoping for the high speed internet
FARGO — An Ellendale-based communications company has been ordered by Cass County commissioners to remove about 50,000 feet of already installed fiber optic cable and stop any further work along County Road 17 between West Fargo and Horace.
In a more than hourlong meeting on Monday, Aug. 16, company executives pleaded their case and said it was a matter of miscommunication, but Cass County Engineer Jason Benson said Dickey Rural Network/ReadiTech "ran roughshod in our utility corridor."
The main issue was that they laid a good portion of the cable in the bottom of the ditch in the county's right-of-way along the road which is against county regulations. Using the right-of-way can cause drainage difficulties and hinder future roadway expansion projects such as widening of roadways and adding storm and sanitary sewers.
Benson said there are plans to replace the Sheyenne River bridge to widen 52nd Avenue to the county road roundabout in 2023, and the company has already put in place cable and other infrastructure in that area that would have to be removed.
The company was given a $50 permit to lay the cable on May 5 to bring high speed internet, television and phone offerings to the area, but Benson and other county officials said ReadiTech failed to communicate with the county on numerous occasions and didn't fully explain the size and scope of the project.
On top of laying the cable in the middle of the ditch, they also installed a 14-inch pipe for the cable with room for more, which was a far cry from the 2-inch fiber optic cable they originally said they were putting in place. Benson called it "ramming through a major hub line," as the company is also building a large company headquarters building along the county road just north of the Casey's General Store in Horace.
Originally, Benson said, it was the county's understanding that ReadiTech would get private easements to carry most of the cable rather than using the right-of-way, which he said is already packed with other utilities.
Commissioners seemed flabbergasted with some of the details and suggested trying to find a different solution as ReadiTech said they were investing about $4 million in the project.
Not only that, but the company's CEO and General Manager Kent Schimke said they already connected the line to the newly built Horace Elementary and Horace High School near the roadway.
Horace Mayor Kory Peterson said the growing town was "all for" the project to provide faster internet and other communications services.
"We're not in favor of removing the cable," Peterson said. "We think of it as a game-changer for our town and the new schools."
Commissioner Rick Steen asked if there could be a different fix as he and Commission Chairman Chad Peterson were concerned about the loss to Horace, the schools and the company.
Benson said it would set a "bad precedent" if they allowed the cable to stay in place, as other utilities could then also use the right-of-way as they please and apologize later.
"It would be like giving permission and then asking for forgiveness afterwards," Benson said.
Commissioner Jim Kapitan agreed, adding, "This outfit ignored all of the rules."
Despite passing the motion to stop all construction and have the cable removed, the board agreed to seek out other options, such as relocating most of the cable out of the bottom of the ditch to the outside of the ditch, obtaining private easements or perhaps leaving it in place in a few locations.
After the meeting, Benson said he would have a teleconference with the company executives in the coming days to see if there were any possible solutions.
However, the motion called for the cable to be removed "promptly."