By Kim Siebert MacPhail
Recently filed Massachusetts House dockets #1886 and #2749 attempt to address an issue that Bedford tackled in 2003—the problem of double utility poles. Despite the fact that there is already a State bylaw that demands removal of an existing utility pole within 90 days when a new pole is installed in the same place, it appears that renewed resolve is needed to provide teeth to largely-ignored legislation that has so far failed to confront a problem rampant across the Commonwealth. To illustrate the dimension of the issue, Public Works Director Rich Warrington estimates that Bedford alone has between 100 and 200 double poles.
The story of Bedford’s double pole bylaw began in the fall of 2003, when the Town adopted Article 47.24: “Prompt Removal of Utility Poles.” The bylaw was upheld by the State Attorney General’s office, but then successfully appealed by NSTAR in 2005, although it remains on the Town’s bylaw books.
Article 47.24 makes provisions for levying fines of $100 per day on the utility past the 90 day deadline for removing the old pole. In order to accomplish a timely transition from old pole to new pole, the bylaw also requires the “owner of the pole” to “remove their wiring and attachments” as well as to oversee the removal of wires belonging to service providers other than the “owner.”
Town Manager Rick Reed recalls that when NSTAR challenged Bedford’s double pole bylaw, the court ruled in favor of the utility because it was deemed irregular for communities to establish their own structure of fines for lack of compliance with a state law. Reed said the bylaw remains on the books, but that Bedford “simply cannot exercise the provision for issuing fines.”
Bedford resident Jan van Steenwijk knows well how frustrating the double pole issue has been. He made a presentation about the dangers utility poles—and the unsightliness of double poles— when Bedford last undertook to put wires underground between Bacon Road and CVS, along the Great Road at Memorial Park.
“I took a lot of photographs and had statistics from the police about how many accidents involve the poles, how many people are killed,” van Steenwijk said. “I have a whole book of photographs of double poles and broken poles from those days. [Yet] the problem still exists.”
Although the two new House bills have not yet gone to committee—where it is assumed they will be combined into one bill—Bedford’s Representative Ken Gordon says it is not too early for concerned citizens to call him and his colleagues about House Docket #1886 and House Docket # 2749, as presented by Kate Hogan and Jonathan Hecht, respectively.
The provisions of the more detailed House Docket #1886 call for an inventory of poles to be created and made into a database so that the status of pole ownership and condition can be tracked. It also establishes a uniform penalty so that the every community has the ability to levy a uniform fine if the utility owning the pole misses the 90 day pole removal deadline.
Representative Gordon has co-signed House Docket #2749 but says that he supports both bills and, indeed, many of the co-signers of the two bills are from Middlesex County districts. Gordon says that when he hears from constituents—or even from residents of other districts that he does not represent—he knows that the issue is important to voters.
To contact Representative Ken Gordon about this or any issue, call his State House office number 617-722-2425, or email him at Ken.Gordon@mahouse.gov.