GOSHEN — The Elkhart County Redevelopment Commission signaled its support for funding the majority of a $1.5 million dark fiber installation between Middlebury and Goshen.

The RDC voted in favor of a $901,154 appropriation of Tax Increment Finance District funds for the project, which could begin in early spring. The Town of Middlebury, which would claim 28 of the 144 strands of fiber to connect its water and wastewater facilities, would provide the other $600,000.

“So there’s a significant amount of available strands for other businesses and schools,” said RDC member Rick Gentle. “I would clearly support it. I think this is being forward-thinking instead of, kind of in hindsight. It’s good for the government, it’s good for the schools and it’s good for the county.”

The fiber conduit would run along C.R. 22, with laterals going in several directions once it reaches Middlebury. The extensions would reach Northridge High School and Middle School as well as several town utilities, proposed project maps show.

Besides adding capacity, the new lines would also provide some redundancy for existing routes, according to Redevelopment Program Coordinator Natasha Kauffmann. County fiber lines currently reach Middlebury from the north, along C.R. 8.

“One thing about fiber is it’s a little bit different from other assets or other projects that we might do, because the benefit of that asset is really dependent on its interconnectivity,” she said. “One of the things that’s been really helpful to us being able to support it, it’s really making sure that that line that goes between Goshen and Middlebury is established. Because that really helps improve redundancy, it helps to improve the overall path of the fiber and the services we’re able to provide to the area.”

She reminded the commission that the county’s dark fiber installations aren’t service lines, which might compete with existing Internet providers. Instead, they provide ways for those service companies to have access to more customers.

For several years, the county has been building a network of buried, inactive lines which it leases to private companies to light up for customers. Major customers include businesses, schools and local governments.

“We’re putting in an asset that belongs to the county, and it strengthens the overall county system of dark fiber,” Kauffmann said. “And by Middlebury having users for us in their municipality – the actual Town of Middlebury using those services as well as having other businesses in the area who want to have this service provided – they are willing to put up that other cost to support it.”

Middlebury will cover its portion out of the Middlebury Elroy TIF, water and sewer funds and a general obligation bond, according to information from Kauffmann.

The county’s share of the project will be paid out of the Middlebury Southeast TIF, which has about $1.3 million in funds. She indicated the project qualifies for TIF funds because the businesses in that district will benefit from it.

The next step will be a formal agreement on the project, which could be ready to vote on as early as February.

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