News: Residents unaware of new cable line installation

By Alyssa Small

For the Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Published Thursday, July 21, 2011

Kelly Berdahl has four holes in his yard, and he didn’t put them there.

“I’m on vacation in Minnesota, and while I was here I got a text from my neighbor telling me people were digging in my yard with a back hoe,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Montana Opticom, not to be confused with Optimum Online, is a local telecommunications company that received $64 million in federal stimulus money last year. The company is using the money to install a new fiber-optic line to improve broadband coverage to rural parts of Gallatin County.

Installing the new line requires digging in homeowners’ yards. And residents were unaware of the project.

Kelly Monlux said she stays at home in the summertime to take care of her kids, and she never heard an explanation for the digging in her yard. The next thing she knew, the crew left its truck on her lawn overnight, cutting ruts into the ground.

“My husband and I are kind of wondering, ‘Shouldn’t we have at least been notified?'” she said.

The digging itself wasn’t bothersome, she said, but the damage to her lawn has been an irritant.

“Hopefully they’ll come back to fix it,” she said.

Further down the road, Caroline Wood said she learned of the digging when workers came to her door. But she didn’t know who they were.

“They knocked on doors, but they didn’t leave anything, so if you weren’t around when they came by, you probably wouldn’t know what’s going on,” Wood said.

Joe Gamble, Opticom’s marketing director, said he was surprised at the homeowners’ complaints. He said door hangers were distributed to houses that might be disturbed by the project.

“I guess now it’s more common to enter a house by the garage instead of the front door,” he said.

Gamble said the company plans to put more energy into marketing after the past few weeks yielded negative feedback from uninformed citizens.

Jim Dolan Jr., president of Opticom, said the company plans to have more billboards and ads promoting the company.

“I think we’ve fallen out of people’s minds,” Dolan said.

Wood said the digging caused a disturbance for her family. Her TV’s audio turned to static when crews were in her yard, and the workers were loud.

“Their language was terrible, and we didn’t know who to call and complain to,” she said.

Workers have been in the subdivision for two weeks, marking underground gas and power lines and digging. Dolan said they are doing everything they can to be as unobtrusive as possible.

“We could dig a trench right through everybody’s yards, but we’re not,” Dolan said. “This way costs us a bit more, but we’re trying to be neighborly because we wouldn’t like it in our backyards, either.”

In the past two weeks, two gas lines have accidentally been cut, one in Berdahl’s yard, and another in Glen Edsall’s yard.

Dustin Maier, Opticom’s engineer, said the gas lines were incorrectly marked by almost 4.5 feet.

“I didn’t hear any official word from any companies until a few days after they started digging, when NorthWestern Energy called me,” Berdahl said.

Edsall said he was also away from his home when the gas line on his property was cut. He said it hasn’t caused any problems.

When he got home, he said a note on his door asked him to call NorthWestern Energy. When he called, the company got his gas and heat all straightened out.

“No matter what they do, people are going to complain,” he said. “In the end, it’s going to be better, so why complain now?”