Connecticut has 900,000 utility poles and aims to require companies to maintain them

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STAMFORD — People walking their dogs sometimes stopped to notice the leaning utility pole on Bon Air Avenue.

The rotten pole – which was considerably thinner at the top, where the equipment was attached – angled sharply towards the street.

It will break in the next storm, dog walkers said.

When it falls, the neighborhood will lose power for hours, they said.

A call was made to the city, they said, but it seemed to go nowhere and no one knew who to call next.

They hoped no one would be hurt.

So he went to a downtown area of ​​Stamford for a year and then another year after that. Then, last year, a team arrived to replace the declining pole and a handful of others nearby.

But there are many more similarly shaped poles — in this neighborhood, in Stamford, and throughout Connecticut.

In November, complaints from the towns of Avon and Simsbury in the Hartford area prompted the state’s Utilities Regulatory Authority to establish standard procedures that utility companies must follow to identify and replace dangerous electric poles.

Photographs submitted with the complaints filed by Avon and Simsbury show broken posts on the side of the road and a post which split near its base and was held up by a brace nailed to an adjacent post.

Last month, PURA officials announced the new procedures, which require compliance from utility companies that own the poles — including Eversource Energy, United Illuminating, Verizon and Frontier Communications — and companies licensed to hang props on the poles – including Altice, AT&T, Charter Communications and Comcast.

Before, companies followed their own procedures.

Now, businesses that receive a complaint from a utility customer or through PURA’s Office of Education, Outreach and Enforcement must inspect the potentially dangerous pole within 48 hours and remove structurally compromised posts within 10 days.

The new regulations come with penalties. If poles identified as problematic fail before they can be replaced, PURA will prohibit the utility company from recovering costs through rate increases and may impose civil penalties.

Beyond that, PURA officials will verify companies. Starting next week, utility companies must allow PURA’s Office of Education, Outreach and Enforcement and the state’s Office of Consumers Council to monitor their systems. internal reporting on problematic posts.

PURA spokesman Joe Cooper said Monday that the agency hardened its stance in 2019, when Governor Ned Lamont named a new PURA chairwoman, Marissa Gillett. It’s a recognition of the essential role of utility poles in providing electrical, telecommunications and cable services, Cooper said.

“A modern and equitable electricity grid is a priority, which requires reliable and resilient infrastructure,” Cooper said.

Lamont’s administration and state lawmakers have set “the goal of achieving universal broadband access, as well as the widespread deployment of 5G technologies,” Cooper said, making “the role of utility poles… even more critical.

PURA has “increased efforts over the past few years to address security and pole access issues,” Cooper said.

Last year, Eversource, Verizon, Frontier and United Illuminating replaced more than 580 poles that were “deteriorated, unsafe, or in immediate danger of falling,” according to PURA.

The poles were identified by customers, “by the utility or its contractor in the normal course of business,” or during the installation of telecommunications equipment, Cooper said.

But Connecticut has 900,000 utility poles and maintaining them is complex.

Most poles are jointly owned by the electric utility serving a given area and Frontier, Cooper said. One of the two acts as the guardian of the pole, he said.

On top of that, some pole-mounted equipment is owned by licensees — companies and some municipalities certified to provide telecommunications and cable services, Cooper said.

All this complicates the erection of new poles and the removal of old ones. In Connecticut, thousands of old poles are rotting next to their replacements.

The reason is that it takes time to identify the owner of equipment hanging from an old pole and then have that company transfer it to the new pole, Cooper said. The old post keeper can’t remove it until it’s done, he said.

PURA is considering a recommendation that would have “one or more contractors who are licensed and able to move all of the props in one visit,” Cooper said.

Double posts can obstruct sidewalks and block motorists’ line of sight, especially at intersections. Posts that deteriorate present a greater risk of falling.

“Efficiently transferring attachments and removing the old pole maintains public safety with the goal of installing reliable poles that are resistant to weather and other types of hazards,” Cooper said.

Utility customers are often the ones who report pole hazards.

They can call Eversource or United Illuminating or Frontier, Cooper said, who “could get the process started sooner.”

But PURA urges customers to email the agency at [email protected] and include the location of the pole by street and the nearest cross street; and, if possible, a photo of the post and the time and date the photo was taken.

PURA staff will track down the post keeper and direct the complaint to the correct location, Cooper said. Utility customers can call PURA’s service center at 1-800-382-4586 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, he said.

In the meantime, consider the warning that has been passed around among dog walkers on Bon Air Avenue.

Do not approach this post.

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