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Thu, Oct. 29

Tusayan Town Council debates broadband, lighting in residential areas

TUSAYAN, Ariz. — Tusayan residents expressed concern over a plan to light up Long Jim Loop Road and R.P. Drive at the Town Council meeting June 13.

At an earlier meeting, the council approved monies payable to Arizona Public Service (APS) to provide a lighting plan for both Long Jim Loop and R.P. Drive. Kevin Hartigan, local APS representative, gave a summary of the plan, including options for the town to purchase both equipment and electric service from APS or electric service only.

Hartigan said both plans included 42 poles spaced about 100 feet apart. Under the first option, the town would be responsible for paying about $42,000 up front to purchase lights and poles, which APS would install and maintain for around $2,800 per year. This option would not include electricity purchased through APS, but would allow for other power options, such as solar. Under the second option, the town would not pay any money upfront, but would be responsible for about $13,000 per year in electric and maintenance costs. Hartigan said the two plans would both cost about $52,000 over the course of four years.

Tusayan resident Clarinda Vail expressed concerns that private property owners were not consulted before APS workers entered their properties, and said she and others were concerned about placement of the poles and whether or not the extra lighting would draw unwanted traffic to residential areas.

“You’re talking about lighting plans on land that neither APS nor the town owns,” Vail said. “The school and the property owners should be more involved. You should get more input before coming up with the plan or spending more public money.”

Vail also said she was concerned that the lighting would encourage more tourist traffic in residential areas, and questioned why R.P. Drive wasn’t included in any of the agenda items addressing the lighting plan.

“I’m not sure I think this plan is right,” Vail said, citing placement of poles and whether or not the plan would interfere with the community’s dark skies designation.

Hartigan said a full lighting study would answer those questions and accommodations could be made, including the spacing of the poles, the direction of the light head, the temperature of the light and lighting only one side of the road.

Mayor Craig Sanderson apologized for not notifying property owners in advance, and emphasized the council’s focus on public safety, including those walking to and from the sports complex on Long Jim Loop Road.

The council directed town staff to meet with property owners to discuss their needs and concerns, as well and ensure that any further council agenda items included R.P. Drive.

Town postpones decision on broadband

After a lengthy debate, the council decided to postpone action on lighting up the town with wireless broadband until after negotiations with service providers.

Bill Bolin, the town’s broadband consultant, reported that the town received two bids in response to the RFQ sent out a month prior. The two companies, whose names were withheld, offered services ranging from $50 to $70 per month for wireless broadband with speeds up to 25 MB download and 10 MB upload.

At a previous meeting, Sanderson and council member David Chavez had expressed support for subsidizing broadband for community residents, citing a need to provide something as basic as internet to a transient community of workers who were unable to sign a long-term contract.

The two companies, one located in San Diego, California and the other in Phoenix, Arizona, both required a three-year contract in their bids, and costs for installing equipment ranged from $200 to $700.

Town Manager Eric Duthie said the town could legally subsidize service costs, but could not subsidize equipment install, since that might benefit commercial properties in addition to residents.

That leaves the onus on property/business owners to install the equipment for the benefit of their employees.

Vice Mayor Becky Wirth said she was opposed to subsidizing the service costs, stating it was a temporary fix that would soon be replaced by the town’s planned multi-million dollar fiber investment.

“I don’t want to see the town spending money on this, because in three to five years, this is going to go away,” she said.

Council member Al Montoya agreed, stating he was not a fan of subsidizing ay services because of the possibility of it getting out of control.

Sanderson and Chavez, however, said a more immediate fix was necessary.

“We’ve got people who can’t afford internet and it’s ridiculous to wait five years when we have money sitting in the bank,” Sanderson said. “I would rather invest that money in our citizens.

Chavez agreed, stating internet was as basic as any other utility.

“It’s important for our people, it educates our children,” he said.

Bolin said the possibility of fiber installation has been expedited because of the school’s recent E-Rate award. E-Rate provides federal funds to run broadband to rural schools and libraries. When that happens, the town can negotiate running spurs off the main line, which will likely run through APS poles along the rail lines from Williams to Grand Canyon Village. Bolin said the school was looking at about 18 months for full installation, but added that getting fiber to Tusayan residents presented challenges and could take much longer.

The council decided that a lengthy contract was the major sticking point for wireless service and directed town staff to contact both providers to negotiate eliminating the contract at the town’s expense.

Council considers changes to regular meeting schedule

After hearing input from council members and town residents, the council voted to hold the next regular meeting at noon July 11.

Montoya said meetings had been running too late for both council members and meeting attendees and suggested starting the meetings earlier to allow time for discussion.

“Everyone who participate, council members, staff and the public, are all affected,” he said. “Nobody should have to be here all night.”

Chavez agreed, stating decision fatigue often set in after four hours or more and members may not be making the best decisions five or six hours in.

After gathering input, the council voted to convene the next meeting midday and work until 6 p.m., with agenda items not covered being pushed to the next meeting.

Other council actions

The council discussed the building permitting process with WILDAN consulting service’s Autumn Wollman. Sanderson said several residents had come forward with concerns about the permitting process, specifically the amount of time involved.

Wollman said the firm’s main goals were building safety and adhering to Arizona’s building codes, and said she was considering placing an employee in Tusayan a couple days a week to answer questions and expedite the process where possible.

Wollman said distance to the building site was often a challenge, and communication issues between engineers and architects sometimes present barricades to expediency.

The council recognized four community members took matters into their own hands when a tree fell and blocked southbound lanes of Highway 64 in May.

Danny Riley and Ted Celaya, both FANN construction employees, along with Red Feather Lodge employee Malcolm Sumerall and Best Western employee D.B., worked to clear the blockage before town maintenance staff could arrive.

Grand Canyon Chamber and Visitor’s Bureau Manager Laura Chastain gave and update on the Ambassador program, which began over the Memorial Day Weekend. Chastain said ambassadors, which include six part-time staff from the community, made contact with 621 people from May 25-31. Ambassadors made contact with an additional 669 people from June 1-12.

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