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Deerfield Valley CUD moves forward

Communications Union District organizers hope for a 20 percent or better response to regional broadband survey due March 17

WILMINGTON—A week after Annual Town Meeting, Ann Manwaring and Gretchen Havreluk were working on the meeting agenda for the March 11 Broadband Working Group’s meeting.

“This is new stuff, and we’re coming out of the gate,” said Manwaring, a former state representative and a current member of the Wilmington Selectboard.

Havreluk, an economic development specialist, serves on the Bi-Town Economic Development Committee for Wilmington and Dover.

The working group formed last fall at a joint meeting of the Wilmington and Whitingham Selectboards. During the meeting, the members of the respective boards discussed the need for internet access in the two communities.

According to Manwaring, she issued a challenge to the board members.

“If we care about this we need to have a next step,” she said.

And a working group was born.

The group decided to move forward with a Communications Union District (CUD) model. To become a working entity, the group first needed two towns to approve a CUD jointly through votes at their respective Town Meetings.

At their Annual Town Meetings, five towns approved joining the Deerfield Valley Communications District. Halifax, Marlboro, Stratton, Wilmington, and Whitingham are officially part of the initiative to bring broadband fiber to every address in these communities — starting with the unserved and underserved areas of these towns.

These CUDs, legal entities similar to municipalities, are governed by the same state laws that oversee towns, wastewater districts, or solid-waste districts such as the Windham Solid Waste Management District (WSWMD), said Manwaring.

Manwaring and Havreluk said the working group plans to use the feasibility study that the Windham Regional Commission will compile this spring.

The working group needs to build the CUD’s operating infrastructure, Manwaring added. Tasks include writing bylaws, electing officers, developing conflict-of-interest policies, and setting up the entity with the Secretary of State’s office.

Also key to the CUD’s progress will be the cooperation of the five towns, Havreluk said. A resolution would commit each Selectboard to sending a representative and alternates to the CUD’s operating board, they said.

“In effect, we can’t operate until we have members for the operating board,” Manwaring said.

Havreluk and Manwaring said they hoped to hear from the five Selectboards within the next two weeks.

The Deerfield Valley CUD will likely evolve. The district has a flexible enough structure that it can include towns that don’t share borders — such as Stratton -—and can cross county and state lines as well.

WRC conducts broadband survey

While the Deerfield Valley CUD will piggyback on the WRC feasibility study, the project is separate from the Windham Regional Commission’s efforts.

The WRC received a $60,000 Broadband Innovation Grant (BIG) from the Vermont Department of Public Service.

The grant provides for technical assistance around creating a CUD in the Windham County region. According to the commission’s website, the goal of the feasibility study is to discover the level of internet service and existing need.

The commission anticipates completing the whole project within six months, according to its website.

“The Deerfield Valley region is out ahead of this,” said WRC Senior Planner Susan Westa, who is the point person on the project.

The consultants working with the commission on the feasibility study and subsequent business plan think at this early stage in the process that Windham County could be the right size for one large regional CUD.

The survey — posted at the WRC’s website until Tuesday, March 17 — is critical for the commission to understand what exists in the region regarding internet coverage and what technology is available, Westa said.

Some of this information is available from the state, Westa said. The survey, however, will give the WRC a deeper understanding of services now available and where any gaps exist.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #552 (Wednesday, March 11, 2020). This story appeared on page A4.

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