Gardonville, along with other telecommunications companies in west central Minnesota were inundated by fiber-optic cable cuts caused by gophers.
Why do gophers chew on fiber-optic cables?
From what I have read, gophers and other burrowing rodents have teeth that continuously grow like our fingernails and they need to gnaw on things to keep their teeth in proper shape.
When do gophers do the most damage?
I do not know a lot about gophers, but I do know nearly all Gardonville’s cable cuts caused by gophers happen between Thanksgiving and April Fools day every year. My guess is they are stuck underground without a lot to chew on. When a cable is plowed into the ground, there is a rip, or cut in the earth that makes the disturbed ground easy to burrow through. So, rodents probably find their way to a cable because it’s easy to reach, even if it’s buried 42” underground.
How does Gardonville repair the damaged cable?
Gardonville only installs rodent-resistant-direct-bury-cable and it takes many generations of gophers to chew through the outer jacket and armored sheath of one of these cables. After 12 years of chewing, eventually they will get their teeth inside the cable and quickly damage the fiber-optic glass strands. Unfortunately, this tends to happen when it’s extremely cold out and the ground is frozen. Repairing a buried cable during a polar vortex like we had earlier this year is nearly impossible. First, we locate the broken location by bouncing laser light through the cable and measure the exact distance the light reflects back to our measuring point. We head to that location and we push snow back to expose the bare ground. A large backhoe equipped to dig into frozen ground is brought in to uncover the damaged cable. This trench is about 4 feet deep and up to 200 feet long, and it is not easy to do. After the cable is exposed, we cut out the damaged section and splice in a new cable. This process takes about 15-24 hours and costs about $6,000 to $32,000 per repair. No two cable cuts are the same.
How often does this happen?
Telecommunication companies are evaluating this winter’s unusually high rodent activity. I do not have the final tally, but I’m aware of dozens of cable cuts that happened this winter. Gardonville had three large “chew cuts” this winter that will cost the co-op well over $20,000 to repair. In northeast South Dakota this winter, a telecommunication company was isolated from the world because of multiple, simultaneous gopher chews. Another company, to the west of Gardonville, experienced 34 gopher chew cable cuts during the winter of 2019!
What services are affected by gopher chews?
Everything from your cell phone to a credit card transaction at a grocery store requires a connection to a fiber-optic cable. Internet traffic, cable television and 911 service can be impacted as well. Each of these disruptions add an additional cost to the repair.
What can people do to help?
Most of the townships in the area pay a bounty for gophers. Their goal in paying the bounty is to encourage controlling the gopher population. They typically pay more for pocket gophers than striped gophers and always require proof of the capture. Each township has their own procedure, and information about their program is readily available.
Gardonville wants to support this effort by establishing a total budget of $2,500 to match amounts paid out by townships that are in the co-op service area. Applicants simply need to present a township gopher bounty payment check and fill out a simple form. The Gardonville board will approve the amounts during its monthly meeting and a check will be mailed out to applicants. Click here to download the application.