Digital 395 project going full bore


Massive project is finally underway in Mono County

The Digital 395 project has been a pie-in-the-sky project for so long, some were beginning to think the 600-plus-mile high-speed broadband fiber project would never make it to Mono County.

But as the rash of construction along the highway corridor right now shows, the project is in full swing, both in Mono County and along much of the U.S. 395 corridor to Carson City.

Big rock wheels churn through boulders the size of cars, drills bore through solid rock, backhoes do their backhoe thing, and bulldozers and trenching crews are scattered across the county, from the bridge over Mammoth Creek to Bridgeport.

There is still another half a year of construction to go, with a federally set deadline of the end of July for the project to be completed. But already, the influx of construction workers is proving to be a short-term boon to the county, even as the final project is expected to transform the county’s economy and the opportunities available for economic growth and diversity.

“We have 20 of 84 sections done,” Michael Ort, the CEO of Praxis Associates, the private developer of the massive project, told the Mono County Board of Supervisors Tuesday. “There are 40-50 workers in the country right now, enough to fill the Rhino Bar (in Bridgeport) and we have spent about $25,000 to $30,000 in the county for the equivalent of 187 motel nights, with another $245,000 in ‘use taxes’ directed to the county, with a similar amount expected next year.”

There is still much to be done before the project is completed, he said.

“We have had to push some sections even with the snow due to biological concerns,” he said. These “concerns” include mitigating the impact the project might have on two species that are close to being on the endangered species list; the Desert tortoise in the Mojave and the sage grouse species that lives in Mono County.

To avoid working in grouse country while the birds are nesting this spring, Praxis had to plow through the snow to complete a section of fiber installation between Virginia Creek and Green Creek in northern Mono County.

It is these kinds of shifts and adjustments that mark every day on the Digital 395 project, he said.

“The early cold winter slowed us down,” he said. “Our machines can’t work in sub-zero temperatures,” he said.

But he said the project will be completed on time, he said. The other half of the Digital 395 project is something called the “Last Mile”—getting the fiber from the Digital 395 backbone to users—was also up for discussion Tuesday at the board of supervisors meeting.

The project now has about 300 “anchors” or organizations such as businesses, schools, hospitals and the like scattered throughout the four-county area the project covers.

Getting the fiber to the anchors, setting the policies that will enable that, and making sure the public is informed of the options available to it is another massive project, this one being spearheaded in Mono County by the county’s IT department.

A series of public meetings to educate the public have been held throughout the county and more are planned, county officials said.