Columbiana County Port Authority Revisits Fiber Optic Agreements

LISBON, Ohio – In an effort to streamline agreements struck 19 years ago in a partnership for providing a fiber optic network to area school districts, the Columbiana County Port Authority Board of Directors passed three resolutions during their regular meeting Monday.

Penny Traina, the port authority’s director and CEO, outlined a 2004 partnership between the port authority and ACCESS, which was reached before any of the current board members were seated and before she was with the agency. Traina was assistant treasurer for the Wellsville School District at the time, during what she called the “pre-internet age.”

According to Traina, state law did not allow ACCESS to contract with private entities for development purposes, so the port authority stepped in as a partner to help complete construction of 260 miles of fiber optic network to create economic development in the region.

As a result, ACCESS transferred ownership of two fiber strands in the network to the port authority for public and commercial use with an additional lease of two fiber strands.

ACCESS is a consortium of 28 school systems serving more than 35 schools in Columbiana and Mahoning counties, with the fiber optic network created through the partnership.

In 2012, the port authority leased to DRS LLC for management of its four fiber strands.

Traina told the board that with no current board member nor herself present when the partnership came to fruition, it was decided to “clean up” language in the agreements so predecessors could more easily understand the provisions.

She said by passing the legislation, the three-party agreements would be extended until 2032; existing commercial and private-sector economic relationships would be preserved; the fiber available to ACCESS for use by the member school districts in both counties would be refreshed; Involta, which purchased DRS LC in 2015, would be able to build out its network for the benefit of private development in the region; relevant agreements between the parties will be consolidated and streamlined; and the port authority’s on-going responsibility for any contractual/leasehold liabilities relating to the fiber network will be eliminated.

The first resolution approved by the board dealt with the cooperative broadband network development agreement and acknowledged the intent and ability of ACCESS and CCPA to provide services to government, quasi-government and nonprofit entities for development purposes, with the port authority joining strictly as an accommodation to ACCESS and Involta with no liability.

The second resolution amended and restated the dark fiber lease and use agreement, consolidating six previous agreements into one that governs the lease and use of all port authority/Involta fiber for a term ending June 30, 2032, with the port authority retaining ownership of the original two purchased fiber strands.

The final resolution receiving board approval addressed the first amendment to the dark fiber lease agreement, conforming the 2012 agreement between the port authority and DRS/Involta to the transaction and formally providing that all ACCESS strands leased/used by the port authority and Involta are leased to Involta by the port authority under one agreement.

Board member Tad Herold commended Traina for undertaking the task of investigating the complicated matter, saying there had been some “very gray” areas.

Chairing the meeting via telephone, Chairman Charlie Presley referred to those early days of fiber optics, saying, “At the time it was absolutely cutting edge, and everybody was trying to figure out how to do it.”

The work Traina had done on streamlining the agreements was “monumental,” Presley said.

Traina, however, said it was “certainly a team effort,” with board attorney Tim Brookes, ACCESS attorneys, Herold and Glenda Schafer involved.

In other matters, the board approved resolutions renewing leases for space in port authority-owned buildings, with no changes to the provisions.

Pictured at top: Penny Traina, director and CEO of the Columbiana County Port Authority.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.