Double Poles a Serious Hazard in Wallkill

Communications companies defer pole replacement, town supervisor says
By Yvonne Marcotte
Yvonne Marcotte
Yvonne Marcotte
January 27, 2016 Updated: January 27, 2016

WALLKILL—The remains of a utility pole leaned to one side on Freezer Road next to a well-maintained pole. Town Supervisor Dan Depew pointed to the partial pole and said the timely replacement of utility poles is not merely a matter of aesthetics, but a serious safety issue.

In a press conference on Jan. 22, he drew attention to the issue. The problem is that communication companies are not carrying out their end of an agreement to replace old and damaged poles in a timely manner.

Depew said Orange & Rockland Utility is doing their part. “O&R has done a tremendous job replacing the poles, getting the electric systems up and running, and making the situation safe.”

Utility poles last about 40 years. Depew said O&R promptly puts in new poles when needed, moves the electric service to the new pole, and notifies the area’s communication companies—Time Warner Cable and Frontier Communications—about the move and that the new pole is in place.

The problem lies with communication companies that defer utility pole maintenance months and sometimes years. “They do not come out and move their stuff over,” Depew said. Less than 10 percent of the poles that are double utility poles are O&R’s, Depew says. “It’s the communications companies.”

Time Warner Cable and Frontier Communications manage the communications infrastructure in the area. The last utility to move their lines and equipment to a new line is required to take down the old pole. Frontier and Time Warner did not respond to requests for comment at press time.

Depew said he will present a local law to the town board at its next meeting to address this issue. The law will mirror one in Clarkstown. Once notified, the companies will have 90 days to remove the poles or face a fine.

Safety Issue

 The duplicate poles are not monitored. “Those poles fall apart in the middle of a day and when the communication lines, which are heaviest of all the materials on these poles, is on a failed pole, it pulls down other poles that are providing the utility’s service,” Depew said.

The supervisor described a potentially hazardous situation two months previous on heavily-traveled VanBurenville Road. A simple breeze, not anything hitting it, disintegrated an old pole that had not been taken down after a new utility pole had been installed months before.

With communication company equipment still on the pole, “the center of the pole turned to dust.” Depew says O&R had notified the communications company to remove it and they didn’t.

“That one communications pole coming down took out the electric [service] for the entire portion of the town, and put charged electric wires in the center of the street.” He says this was preventable if the companies had followed the policy set by the state Public Service Commission and that has been accepted by all the utility providers.

Deferring maintenance can be costly. In the VanBurenville incident, O&R had to send out a team to get power back on. In other cases, fire, emergency medical services and highway departments might be called if live power lines fall on the street. What was preventable can easily turn into an emergency “created by a lack of maintenance, deferred maintenance, and not following through on a policy.”

For residents who live nearby, the double pole situation is an eyesore.

Town Takes Action

Wallkill residents are not happy. “We get a lot of complaints,” Depew said. He thought a resident was overreacting when he heard it the first time, but when he drove home that day “I think I counted 50 of them myself.”

To document the extent of the problem, public works crews and plow drivers followed their routes to look for “double pole” situations. The drivers counted 547 double utility poles in Wallkill. “More and more people have brought it to my attention. We’ve had a number of cases where it’s been a hazard.”

It’s a simple job if the communications companies will make the effort. “You could cut down the pole at the base, get the pole removed, and move this stuff over. It’s so simple,” Depew said.

He wants the town and the utility companies to work together. He says the town will afford the companies a reasonable period of time to fix the situation. Depew says he does not want to fine anyone but says the situation is “out of control” and calls it irresponsible. The new law will not be retroactive. The town has identified the poles with pole numbers, streets, and identifying intersections.

He will also send the list of double poles to the PSC for review. The communications companies must go to the PSC for rate increase approval and may have to respond to the state for the double pole situation.

Depew says Frontier and Time Warner can easily work with O&R when poles are replaced. “They can do it all together at one time.” The longer maintenance is deferred, the more costs mount up.

“Maybe our new law will force them to find a better way to work together. That’s our goal—getting everybody to work together.”

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