Co-owned Utility Poles Leave a Patchwork of Unsafe and Precarious Conditions

A "beaut" in Stamford


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Jeff Reason and Travis Joyner eyeballed two utility poles strapped together at the edge of a cracked sidewalk in downtown Stamford.

One pole stands mostly straight, but the other leans precariously over Prospect Street. A wooden brace connects the poles near their tops, which support a tangle of wires, cables and equipment boxes.

“That’s not right,” Joyner said.

“It looks like it could fall any day,” Reason said. “Somebody could get hurt.”

“It could hit somebody walking, somebody driving,” Joyner said, nodding toward the pedestrians and vehicles traveling on busy Prospect Street.

“Somebody should take care of that,” Reason said, pointing to the base of the doubled-up poles.

The leaning pole is not set in the ground. Part of the bottom rests on wooden blocks put there to support it.

“Not good,” Joyner said. “Not good at all.”

On Strawberry Hill Avenue a couple of blocks away, David Avery would agree.

Avery, president of the Strawberry Hill Neighborhood Association, calls such poles “beauts.”

He has seen multiple beauts in downtown Stamford, but the winner is at Strawberry Hill and Holcomb avenues, Avery said.

“It got hit by a car. It’s mangled at the bottom. It’s leaning so far into the street that it gets nicked by tall trucks passing by,” Avery said. “Pieces of the pole keep falling off. It’s so dangerous.”

One of the utility companies placed a new pole beside the cracked pole, braced them together, and attached another brace at the bottom of the damaged one.

Heavy strands of cables still are attached to the pole that bends over Strawberry Hill Avenue.

The utility companies “have a lot of nerve,” Avery said. “It’s absolutely amazing that they leave these like this.”

Just down the street, in front of Stamford High School, another set of poles, one old and one new, poses a different type of danger, Avery said. They take up most of the narrow sidewalk, which is full of students walking to class in the morning and walking home in the afternoon.

“It forces the kids to walk in the street, and you don’t want kids walking on Strawberry Hill Avenue,” Avery said.

His neighborhood association repeatedly fights for safety measures on Strawberry Hill, notorious for pedestrian accidents. A Stamford High student was killed there in 2016.

“The condition of some of these utility poles is so tenuous,” Avery said. “The utility companies can’t ignore it anymore.”

A “beaut” in Stamford

Compromised poles have the attention of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, which late last year set new identification and replacement standards – and penalties – for utility companies.

PURA’s mandates affect Eversource Energy, United Illuminating, Verizon and Frontier Communications, which own the poles, along with companies licensed to hang equipment on the poles, including Altice, AT&T, Charter Communications and Comcast.

Most poles are jointly owned by Frontier and either Eversource or United Illuminating, depending on the service area, according to PURA. Each pole has a designated custodian.

A quick drive through Stamford reveals multiple thinning, aging, leaning poles, and failing poles still tethered to new ones. PURA officials have said the problem is statewide. The authority took action last year after receiving complaints from towns in the Hartford area.

But no one appears to know what portion of Connecticut’s 900,000 utility poles may be compromised.

“We likely have data across multiple dockets that speak to the double pole and licensee attachment backlog, but unfortunately we do not have anything aggregated or available at this time,” said Taren O’Connor, director of legislation, regulations and communications for PURA. “Part of the driver for directing the pole owners to provide us access to the pole maintenance database … is designed to provide us greater (and real-time) transparency into questions like this.”

Under the new regulations, utility companies must allow PURA officials access to their internal reporting systems. Complaints must be inspected within 48 hours and damaged poles must be replaced within 10 days.

A spokeswoman for Frontier, which offers communications services in 25 states, did not answer a question about the number of compromised poles it co-owns in Connecticut.

“Frontier and the electric utility regularly inspect poles to ensure they are safe and capable of supporting electric/communications facilities,” the spokeswoman said in an email. “If a safety issue with a particular pole is identified, the pole will be replaced. Frontier and the electric companies regularly provide updates to PURA regarding the status of this work.”

Eversource serves 149 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities, said Mitch Gross, who handles media relations for Eversource Connecticut.

The company owns about 408,000 of 718,000 utility poles in its service area, Gross said, and the rest are co-owned with either Frontier or Verizon.

He did not say what proportion of the poles need replacement.

He did, however, address situations involving double poles. Eversource transfers electric lines to new poles when they go into the ground, but it cannot transfer lines or equipment owned by phone, cable, Internet and other companies, Gross said.

“We currently have nearly 40,000 double-pole situations in our service area, and in about 95 percent of those instances, we are waiting for the other companies’ lines or equipment to be removed,” Gross said. “While we understand the concerns that double poles can present our communities, and take seriously our role in addressing this shared priority, we are currently prohibited from moving their equipment or lines. Only when they complete their transfers is an old pole considered ‘bare’ and can then be removed.”

Eversource has “a robust inspection program and if a pole is damaged, typically by vehicle accidents or storms, we respond to the site as quickly and safely as possible,” Gross said. The company also replaces older, undamaged poles with new ones, he said.

A spokesman for United Illuminating said staff members who could provide information on compromised poles are on vacation and it will be available when they return.

Connecticut residents may report failing utility poles by emailing a note to naming the street and cross-street closest to the pole. If possible, send a photo of the pole and the time and date it was taken. Residents also may call PURA’s service center at 1-800-382-4586.

Avery said he will report the downtown Stamford “beauts.”

The utilities are “huge companies” that “leave their messes for others … to clean up,” he said. “They should be contributing something positive to the community, rather than making it potentially unsafe and definitely ugly.”

Angela Carella

For 36 years prior to joining the Connecticut Examiner, Angela Carella was a beat reporter, investigative reporter, editor and columnist for the Stamford Advocate. Carella reports on Stamford and Fairfield County. T: 203 722 6811.