Expenses continue to climb for Harford County's far-reaching project to connect all public buildings and schools in Harford County via fiber-optic cable, known as HMAN, or Harford Metro Area Network, which officials expect to be operational sometime this spring.
The Harford County Board of Estimates last week approved another half a million dollars to cover additional expenses of getting businesses, residents and agencies connected to the HMAN and maintaining the system.
County officials had previously approved $8.9 million in construction expenses to build four fiber-optic "rings" that county government agencies, volunteer fire companies, law enforcement, the public schools, the three municipalities, as well as private residents and businesses, could connect to.
Residents of the northern part of Harford would connect to HMAN through wireless Internet since officials determined the costs of extending to the far reaches of the county would be too expensive.
Though both contracts sailed through without any problem at Thursday's meeting, one board member cautioned that the county needs to consider any health liability issues it might face from the new system.
The latest contracts approved are with the Columbia Telecommunications Corp. of Kensington for $263,900 and with KCI Construction Services LLC of Hanover for $272,400.
KCI was previously contracted to build the four rings, but the company will also provide "ongoing fiber maintenance," Ted Pibil, director of the county's Office of Information and Communication Technology, explained. He said a separate contract is necessary because maintenance "was going to be an ongoing expense."
The contract with Columbia Telecommunications covers public outreach and a "business plan" for the HMAN system, Pibil said.
He said Columbia would handle leasing fiber optic to private businesses, developing a request for proposals for the engineering of the wireless version of the HMAN and developing "community" cloud storage service and a "multi-tenant" Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service for county agencies, libraries and schools.
Harford County Council President Billy Boniface urged his fellow board members to consider the potential health impact of "forcing" wireless Internet through the county and any legal liability the county might face.
Boniface, who has recovered from Lyme Disease, said the electronic signals could affect people who are recovering from chronic illnesses and might have greater sensitivity to the electric and magnetic fields generated.
"Those of us who have gone through recovery know darn well that it is an issue," he said.
Boniface stressed the wireless Internet is "a great thing for northern Harford County" because it allows residents who do not have access to broadband Internet to get that access.
"The potential is super but at the same time I just want them to take under consideration the liability issues," he said.
Harford County Executive David Craig, the board chairman, asked Pibil to bring people to his HMAN team who can provide expertise on potential health impacts.
Organizations such as the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization have studied the issue of electric and magnetic fields emanating from cellular phones, power lines and wireless devices for a number of years and have determined the electronic signals present a low public health risk, according to their websites.
New, old landfill sections
The estimates board also voted last week to award a $13.4 million contract to Dixie Construction Company Inc. of Churchville to build one new cell and close 10 cells in the Harford Waste Disposal Center, the county's last operating trash landfill, which is in Street.
Jeff Schoenberger of the Department of Public Works said Cells A through J are "very near capacity" and must be closed to comply with federal and state laws.
"It needs to happen," Public Works Director Tim Whittie, who is also an estimates board member, said. "We are running out of space and we still have to have someplace to put our trash."
Harford and Baltimore County officials signed a deal in 2013 to transfer Harford's trash to Baltimore County beginning in 2016, which coincides with the closure of the waste-to-energy incinerator at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
The board also approved a $181,249 contract with RouteMatch Software Inc. of Atlanta to improve vehicle tracking, scheduling, communications and data collection for the Harford Transit LINK bus system.
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Board member and Procurement Director Debbie Henderson made a motion to adjourn the open session Thursday and enter a closed session "to discuss the acquisition of fee simple perpetual and temporary easements for a bridge project and a road project."