Joint use utility poles can be a major point of contention between the various companies that use them. Pole owners and attachers face these challenges daily. There are cost issues, liability issues, and so much more. These challenges often stem from which company is responsible for which attachments and equipment, along with a lack of real communication between the pole owner and the other companies attached to the utility pole. Here are three of the challenges of joint use utility poles and what you can do to prevent them.
All of the attachments to a utility pole are strictly regulated. They must have permits and meet certain guidelines of the NESC, the FCC, and other industry standards. Still, many joint use utility poles end up with illegal attachments (bootlegs) on them which were installed without attachment permits, or that are otherwise not in compliance.
It is generally not deliberate malfeasance. Most of the time, people want to do the right thing, but are stymied by lack of communication with the pole owner or other attaching companies. It’s an uphill battle. With all of that equipment to keep track of, sometimes a permit can be overlooked and work requests can slip in under the radar. However, no matter if it's intentional or not, or who owns the equipment, the pole owner is ultimately legally responsible for the utility pole and any issues the pole may cause.
The solution to this problem is to take regular inventory of your utility poles and other field assets. Keeping abreast of what is attached to your utility poles at any given time and who it belongs to will help you avoid these oversights.
This problem often stems from a lack of compliance, poor planning, or miscommunication. If you do not readily know how much equipment is attached to a particular utility pole, you could end up overloading the pole The pole could potentially break under the extra load, causing outages, as well as serious damage and potential injury (and subsequent lawsuits).
Regular joint use inventories can help in this instance, but it is also important to perform strength and rot inspections on the utility poles you own. Even if a pole is not overloaded by extra attachments, it may simply be too weak or damaged to hold up its normal load. In which case, the pole should be replaced immediately, before it gives out and causes damage.
Double Poles (Doublewood)
When a pole owner replaces a given utility pole, all of the attachments and equipment must be transferred from the old one to the new one. However, sometimes not all of the equipment makes the switch. This is why often you see two poles side by side, each with some of the attachments on it, and the original pole is “topped,” meaning the top of the pole, where the power equipment once was, has been removed.
Like most of the challenges of owning or attaching to joint use utility poles, this is largely a result of lack of communication. The Joint Use Administrator at one company may not have received the Transfer Notice from the pole owner. Perhaps the notification went to someone else who may have ignored or forgotten about sending the notice of pole transfer to the proper contact within the organization. With an effective notification system>, every company with attachments on a particular pole can be alerted to transfers (and reminded, when necessary). That way, everyone is on the same page, and double poles can be eliminated.
The challenges of managing and maintaining joint use utility poles can be a major headache for the one who has to manage them. It is no easy task keeping everything in order and all the disparate entities and attachments in line. However, with a little smart planning and proper timely communication, you can keep everything in your network running smoothly.