Port will benefit from legal settlement

EAST LIVERPOOL – The Columbiana County Port Authority is being given additional fiber optic cable that it will lease for $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit filed against a company accused of using the Port Authority’s fiber optic network without its knowledge.

The settlement agreement was approved at Monday’s Port Authority board meeting and resolves a lawsuit filed in December 2011 against OneCommunity, a Cleveland-based non-profit company that provides digital broadband services.

Under the terms of the proposed settlement, OneCommunity will provide the Port Authority with permission to use four strands of the company’s fiber optic cable that connect the Youngstown area to Canton and Mansfield.

The agreement is for 20 years, and the Port Authority turned around and immediately leased OneCommunity’s four cables to Data Recovery Services (DRS) for $100,000 a year over the next 12 years.

During years 13 through 15, DRS has the option of continuing to use OneCommunity’s four cables for $100,000 a year, with an option to extend the agreement five more years under the same financial terms.

During the first 12 years, OneCommunity will retain responsibility for maintenance of the cables. After that, DRS must pay a $250-per-mile annual maintenance fee if it wants to continue with the arrangement.

Port Authority CEO Tracy Drake said they were pleased with the settlement because of the money they will eventually get out of the deal and the benefit to DRS, which is under contract to operate the Port Authority’s fiber optic network.

“It allows DRS to be more robust,” he said of the additional fiber optic cables.

OneCommunity’s involvement with the Port Authority dates back to the mid 2000s, when it was supposed to become part of efforts to construct, equip and help operate the Port Authority’s data center in Leetonia. OneCommunity was to work in tandem with B-Telecom, the information technologies company hired by the Port Authority to operate the data center and manage its fiber optic network.

According to the lawsuit, B-Telecom secretly negotiated a side deal that allowed OneCommunity to begin using the Port Authority’s fiber optic network. The contract with B-Telecom was later terminated by the Port Authority, and DRS was hired in its place.

Meanwhile, the Port Authority obtained a $750,000 state loan and awarded it to OneCommunity for completion of the data center. The lawsuit alleged OneCommunity never followed through with its part of the deal and may have even used some of the loan money to purchase equipment and fiber for its other offices.

The lawsuit was scheduled for trial on Feb. 11 in county Common Pleas Court, but the dispute had been referred to mediation in September. The mediation session resulted in the settlement agreement, with a judgment entry to be submitted to the court for approval by March 1.

Drake said they agreed the only comment any of the parties would have is that “our disagreement has been fairly settled.”