Aurora discussion focus: Extending fiber-optic plant

Amy Roth
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A resolution to extend the Aurora city government’s fiber-optic cable plant from the southwest side of Diehl Road at Eola Road to the east side of Diehl Road in Aurora was the topic of much discussion during Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting. The measure ultimately landed on the unfinished portion of next week’s Aurora City Council agenda.

Mike Baker, optical-network engineer for the city governement’s Information Technology Department, told aldermen that the connection, though a backup, is needed, and that the $178,137 price tag is the “cheapest way to get it done.” NTI National Technologies of West Chicago won the competitive bid in June 2018.

Baker said there is only one Aurora connection to Naperville’s fiber-optic network, which does not insure that emergency services will continue unhindered in the event of an outage. Naperville and Aurora share emergency communications systems and act as back-ups for one another in the event of outages. Aurora has experienced two outages recently, Baker said.

The project has been stuck at the committee level for months. Chief management officer Alex Alexandrou addressed Council on one of the sticking points: An outdated agreement between the City and OnLight Aurora, the nonprofit agency managing the city’s fiber network.

Alexandrou said managing the connection has evolved into a “two-track” approach.

The first track he said, is to look at the connection as a capital project that was “on the books” for three years and has been funded in the Capital Improvement Plan.

The second track concerns the agreement between the city and OnLight Aurora. The agreement is several years old, he said, and over time, “expectations and elected officials” have changed. “The public wants more transparency, and that does not exist in the agreement,” he said.

Alexandrou proposed the project be moved forward and hopefully approved during the February 12 City Council meeting, but that the agreement between the city and OnLight Aurora would be updated and modernized in the near future. “It should not hold up this vital capital project,” Alexandrou said.

Eighth Ward Alderman Rick Mervine said he wondered if “everyone is being straightforward” about the the reasons for the connection. Aurora is seeking to serve private businesses with the connection, he said, especially Scientel Solutions, Inc., which is building its corporate headquarters in the Aurora area and would benefit from the proposed connection.

Mervine said other reasons given for the immediacy of the project are connection to Naperville, the sheriff’s office, the DuPage County traffic management system and for public safety. He added that the Finance Committee, which has been studying the request, asks for information “and routinely doesn’t get that information.”

He said the committee has heard that “We’ll give you that information in the future if you just pass this. I think it’s a slippery slope” and a tough “precedent to set.”

Alexandrou said as the project evolved, city staff members, through research, found more opportunities for the connection.

Tenth Ward alderman Judd Lofchie wondered why the connection was approved three years ago in the Capital Improvement Plan, but wasn’t funded. “Is it a good idea? Do we need redundancy with DuPage County and Naperville?” he asked.

Alexandrou said city staff has “every confidence this is the right approach. We would like approval next week so we can get this done.” Alderman-at-large Sherman Jenkins agreed. “Let’s make this happen.”

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