Dangerous-Looking Eyesores: Communities Vent About Double Power Poles - NBC10 Boston

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Dangerous-Looking Eyesores: Communities Vent About Double Power Poles

Law requires removal within 90 days, but NBC10 Boston Investigators found some languish for years

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Double Pole Dilemma

    The law says double power poles should be replaced within a few months, but the NBC10 Boston Investigators found some still there years later.

    (Published Thursday, June 27, 2019)

    There are more than 16,000 of these dangerous-looking eyesores dotting the landscape across Massachusetts, some likely in your neighborhood.

    Double power poles are the result of new construction, storm damage and car accidents, created when a new pole is installed next to the old, damaged one.

    State law says the double poles should be removed within 90 days and replaced with a new one. However, the NBC10 Boston Investigators found many are still languishing in neighborhoods years later, with no consequences for the utility and telecommunications companies responsible for maintaining them.

    Below, see an animation showing how double poles occur, as well as a searchable table showing where they are around the state. See an ugly or dangerous double power pole in your neighborhood? Send us a picture and at shareit@nbc10boston.com and tell us where you are.

    I'll admit, I had no idea what a double pole was until meeting Paul Rice. But after taking a ride around town with the Lincoln homeowner, you start to realize they are just about everywhere.

    "It just seemed strange to me that they never seem to fix these things," Rice told me.

    The issue landed on his doorstep years ago when a car hit a pole in front of his house. A crew came and installed a new pole, bolting it to the damaged pole.

    A couple of years later, a car collided with the next pole down the road. A crew showed up and did the same thing.

    And then, Rice said there was another collision with the third pole in that row. The retired engineer said he grew concerned about what might happen if there is another accident at the location.

    "I'm afraid the whole thing would come down," Rice explained. "I contacted some of the state people and some of the utilities. Nobody seemed to care. That's why I got in touch with you guys. Somebody might care!"

    Double Poles: How They WorkDouble Poles: How They Work

    Thousands of double power poles are languishing in neighborhoods across Massachusetts. In this animation, Ryan Kath explains why they are installed in the first place.

    (Published Thursday, June 27, 2019)

    The process of removing a double pole involves communicating and coordinating among different entities. If a car hits a pole, a crew will install a new pole and anchor it to the damaged one to keep it from falling.

    The web of wires on the old pole then needs to be transferred to the new pole one by one. It starts at the top with power lines and then works its way down the pole. Potential attachments can include streetlights, cable company wires, municipal infrastructure and telephone lines.

    Until all that coordination is complete, the old pole can't be removed.

    State law gives companies 90 days to make it all happen.

    "The reality is it never happens, as far as I can tell," Rice said.

    It's not quite that bad, but figures from the Department of Public Utilities show that instead of being replaced in three months, the average existing double pole has been in the ground for more than 34 months.

    According to the state's most recent semi-annual report, there are about 16,072 double poles across Massachusetts. Of those, roughly 85 percent have been in place longer than 90 days.

    Nearly 50 double poles have even languished in neighborhoods since the DPU first started keeping track in 2004, including ones the NBC10 Boston Investigators spotted in Millis, Natick and Medford.

    "They put a new pole in and don't take the old one away. That's not very professional, is it?" said Ronald Turgeon, a Lowell homeowner who lives across the street from a precarious-looking double pole.

    For George Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, double poles are a perpetual thorn in the side.

    "It bugs us a lot," he expressed, while standing next to a splintered pole in Newton. "Not only is it ugly for the neighborhood, it's unsafe and should be replaced."

    Beckwith said towns and cities feel powerless when it comes to enforcing the law because there is absolutely no punishment for missing the deadline.

    "There is no financial downside to their delaying," he said. "A solution would be legislation that allows cities and towns to levy penalties and fines."

    However, National Grid, Eversource, Unitil and Verizon all told us that imposing fines would have the unintended consequence of shifting resources away from new infrastructure and economic development projects.

    The companies pointed to a recent report they jointly submitted to DPU, which touted improvements like a new online system that communicates who's next up in line to transfer their wires from a double pole.

    It's a change they credit with putting a 38 percent dent in the state's double pole backlog last year. The utilities estimate that it will cost between $41 million and $63 million to remove the existing base of double poles. That does not take into account double poles that emerged in 2019.

    Not everyone is impressed by the statistics.

    "We think it's like saying, 'Look Ma, I got a D this year. That's a lot better than I got last year on the exam,'" Beckwith joked.

    Rep. Thomas Golden, who chairs the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, said he understands the frustration from communities. However, the Lowell lawmaker acknowledged that in some cases, cities and towns are the ones with attachments on poles that can slow the process.

    "The system has gotten better, but there is a heckuva lot of room for improvement," Golden said. "They absolutely should get better at it, especially with safety issues."

    Rep. Kate Hogan has followed the double pole dilemma for more than a decade. The Stow lawmaker was part of a legislative effort that pushed for increased transparency and accurate reporting of the double pole inventory.

    When asked if she supports implementing a fine structure, Hogan said she wants to see how the web-based reporting system performs.

    "With the increased reporting, we can examine during the coming year if the system in place throughout the state will be effective in decreasing the number of double poles, or if we will need to turn to some of the tougher measures on the table," Hogan said in a statement.

    In Rice's Lincoln neighborhood, the poles are owned by Verizon, but a company spokesman told us it had been waiting on Eversource crews to begin the process and transfer its power lines.

    After we reached out to Eversource, crews showed up outside Rice's home on June 26 to begin the work.

    We also asked the utilities if we could get video of one double pole being removed anywhere around the Boston area. Nobody got back to us with a location.

    "I spent my whole life as an engineer fixing things and trying not to band-aid them," Rice said. "To me, this is the worst example of band-aiding things. Just fix it!"

    Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@nbcuni.com. You can also follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.