|HSVPOA BOARD BRIEF #29 – March 6, 2023
UPDATE ON THE FIRST ELECTRIC INTERNET PROJECT
In an effort to enlighten Hot Springs Village residents on the status of the First Electric project to bring faster internet to the East side of our community, Kelly Hale, General Manager, is sharing the following narrative….
At the beginning of this project in Q4 2021, the POA told the utility company, First Electric, the resources the POA had to work with and the maximum number of their crews the POA could support at any one time. The role of the POA was to locate existing water lines and other utilities as First Electric did their digging. The utility company wanted to bring 3 times the number of crews that we as a community could support with our own available manpower. POA management, in this earliest phase of the project, was upfront and honest about our capabilities, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears.
When Ken Unger, POA Public Works Director, joined new General Manager Kelly Hale’s team in early 2022, a time was established to begin meetings with the utility company to get updates and share ideas. In these meetings, as in meetings with the previous POA management, the utility company attempted to push the POA into allowing a significant number of First Electric crews to work within HSV in order to maintain their original schedule. As with the past management from 2021, the new POA management, Hale and Unger, reiterated that the POA could only give First Electric the manpower resources that the POA actually had available. Hale and Unger suggested that the POA could help by hiring additional water line and utility locators in order to allow First Electric to bring in more crews. This was at a time when the POA was short over 100 employees and Hale and Unger were upfront and honest about the POA ability to support additional First Electric crews. The utility company indicated that they too were having issues with staffing and getting quality help from many of their own sub-contractors on this project. The utility company indicated that they had told the HSV POA members here and their own Board of Directors that it would be a 2-and-a-half-year project – even after the POA had told First Electric that their original plans were not realistic from the perspective of what they expected from HSV. The utility company seemed to be uneasy about sharing this with our members or even to their own Board of Directors.
In meetings between the utility company and POA representatives including Public Works department superintendents, Director Ken Unger, Board Chair Joanie Corry, and Kelly Hale, POA management would remind the utility company that it has provided all available resources to help on this project. During these meetings First Electric finally acknowledged that the root issue was really the amount of rock in the soil here in the Village. This prompted the POA to ask why First Electric was surprised to find the Ouachita Mountains had so much rock. The POA asked if this was taken into account in the original estimate for the project. First Electric went on to tell the POA that due to the increased time and cost of boring through rock they needed to scale back on the scope of the project and turn up some of the work they have already done elsewhere to draw in revenue to pay for future investments in our area.
During the time of the project, there have been several issues with First Electric contractors not obeying the 2-foot easement from our utilities and in order to avoid the rocky soil problem boring into the soft soil that the POA and other utilities had created from previous work done. To protect our water lines and utilities, the POA had to add additional oversight to the boring and, in some cases, stop the First Electric crews that were getting into our POA utilities easement. This was reviewed in each one of the meetings we had with the First Electric CEO and the VP on this project.
The POA team has relayed the same message for over a year regarding of our capabilities and urged First Electric that, if their timeline has changed due to fewer crews then originally desired plus impedance from a heavy rock base, it was important to update everyone on what First Electric is up against. At least people will know and appreciate the honesty.
It is unknown why the utility company, when questioned by HSV residents, chose to say they were delaying their own work to let the POA catch up on its projects. The POA crews that supported the First Electric teams have been the same since the beginning of the project in 2021 – we had line markers finding the utilities for the First Electric boring and when First Electric broke a water or sewer line, the POA crews would stop whatever project they were currently working on and go repair the break. The POA hired additional people for the line marking expressly to accommodate the First Electric project because we don’t normally have a need for more than one person on our historical jobs.
First Electric’s customer service line was indicating the project delays were to allow for the POA to get caught up. This was not correct. After the POA contacted them and expressed its disappointment in their approach to what is really their own issue they are now saying the delays are due to the boring issues. Once Kelly Hale informed First Electric the POA would be addressing the facts with the POA members and its own Board, First Electric management acknowledged the real situation at a customer event and with their Board of Directors.
The POA remains committed to new infrastructure in our community and will support all efforts with the resources we have available to us; yet just like First Electric we have a budget to manage and costs to control as well. First Electric is a partner of ours and have many more resources to help get these lines installed in order to generate revenue from our community. It is unfortunate that they underestimated the scope of the job and would not communicate the true issues.