Friday, October 30, 2020
Oct. 30, 2020

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Inslee signs ‘dark fiber’ bill; Ridgefield port excited

Port officials played key role in getting state law modified to allow development of internet infrastructure

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

The Port of Ridgefield’s plan for a new circuit of high-speed internet is coming closer to reality, powering hopes for more economic growth in the region.

Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday signed a bill enabling ports throughout Washington to build and lease telecommunications infrastructure to attract modern businesses, a tool that had been exclusively available to ports in rural counties until now.

The Port of Ridgefield, which had lobbied for the inclusion of more populous counties in the law, now has the authority for its planned “dark fiber” loop. On Friday, port officials said they are excited.

“It’s hard to explain what the excitement is, other than to say that I’m proud that the little Port of Ridgefield was one of the leaders in something that’s so big for our state,” said Nelson Holmberg, vice president of innovation for the port. “I’m just really proud of what we’ve done.”

The 42-mile loop as planned would snake through the Discovery Corridor, an area along Interstate 5 targeted for development. It runs from northern Vancouver to the Ilani Casino Resort, near La Center.

“Dark fiber” refers to the way the Port of Ridgefield could go ahead and lay fiber-optic cables. The cables would then be leased to internet service providers. Those private companies would then “light” them by connecting them to the internet.

Construction could take more than a year, according to Holmberg. This loop has an estimated price tag of $2.5 million, and the port has $1 million set aside in this year’s budget, he said. The port will likely put construction out to bid in the summer.

“I’ve been saying I expect at least some of it to be available for lease by the end of the year,” he said.

Major asset

The loop is expected to be a major asset for landing or expanding businesses. Modern businesses demand greater internet speeds than is readily available from current suppliers, Holmberg said.

“We have heard from companies that in Ridgefield, we’ve done a great job with infrastructure like transportation, water, sewer, electricity — but the broadband is a piece that’s missing to get what they need at the prices they need,” he said.

As envisioned, prized industries like software companies or health care could tap into the fiber loop, he added. Advanced manufacturers might also be enticed by the proximity of Clark College, which plans to build a new facility near Ridgefield.

“We’re going to start seeing manufacturing I think, that’s my hunch, with the vocational training that Clark College will offer,” Holmberg said. “Advanced composites, advanced manufacturing interest — a lot if it is going to be sparked by this new push for broadband infrastructure.”

Holmberg couldn’t say whether there are any businesses eyeing Ridgefield as a potential landing spot now that the loop is moving forward.

He did say that three internet service providers have reached out to possibly lease the fiber.

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