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Goodhue, Dakota counties may join in optical fiber purchase

One hundred forty-four strands of optical fiber are being installed between Red Wing and Hastings, and Goodhue County has the option to purchase a portion of them.

At a Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday afternoon, Goodhue County commissioners were presented information by Dakota County officials about joining together for the purchase.

"Instead of building stuff on our own, how do we work together?" asked David Asp, fiber administrator for Dakota County.

The fiber is owned by Hiawatha Broadband Communications, but HBC is offering local government agencies the chance to buy 12 of the 144 total strands.

"Much of it's in place already ... and it's a good opportunity for us to jump on board at a one-time cost," Goodhue County Information Technology Director Randy Johnson said.

Since the county already has a fiber connection in the Government Center, the board questioned why more strands would be needed.

"This would enhance that connection," Asp said.

Still, some commissioners had trouble seeing more than a single advantage to the agreement.

"If somehow a line is cut to the south, we would have fiber to the north. That's the benefit I see," Commissioner Ron Allen said.

"That's just one of the many, many possible benefits," Johnson responded.

The IT director said there would be potential for connecting phone systems and backing up data with Dakota County, as well as opening up the fiber for economic development to private entities through leasing agreements.

"There's a million things you could do," Johnson noted in a follow-up interview after the meeting. "I hate to throw out a possibility of buying up some fiber that we could use in the future, because fiber really is the future."

Although numbers haven't been officially negotiated, it is estimated that Goodhue County would contribute $30,000 for the project. The cost would be a one-time fee.

The idea of purchasing the fiber is in its initial stages, and Tuesday's meeting was purely informational.

"We're just doing some research," Johnson said.

Still, he wanted to bring the concept to commissioners early on so appropriate planning can be done.

"If we want to go ahead with this we need to make sure that we set aside some budgeting for next year," Johnson explained.

Dakota County is writing up a draft joint powers agreement to be reviewed by the Goodhue County attorney. The draft will be presented to the County Board at a future Committee of the Whole meeting.