Utility poles first began lining our roadways in 1844, but the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC), which sets the guidelines for electric power and utility systems — including utility poles — was not written until decades later, and the regulations continue to change regularly. Previously existing utility poles, however, are often not required to be removed due to new rules that are written after a pole’s construction. Such was the case in the city of Dover, N.H.
In Dover lies the Chandelle Estates Airport, a small, privately owned airport built in 1962 and located off Bayside Drive (State Route 9). Also located off State Route 9 are 35-foot-tall utility poles, poles that were grandfathered in and do not comply with current regulations forbidding their placement within certain distances of runways. These poles, however, are now reaching the end of their lifecycles and are being replaced. The new utility poles are required to meet current aeronautic regulations, a fact that was initially overlooked 1. The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) reviewed and approved the replacement project last year, but the agency never had the Office of Aeronautics also review and approve the construction plans. This oversight may end up costing the city of Dover (the pole owner in this specific case) a lot more than expected, as they now must develop a new plan for replacing these poles — after the replacement project has already begun.
Online utility management systems could be used to help protect pole owners in these situations. With a system that tracks workflows, such as obtaining approval for pole replacement projects, and archives critical documents, like utility construction permits, pole owners can prove they went through the appropriate channels to obtain permission for performing work. An accurate inventory of poles — including everything from the year poles are placed to location information — will also help companies avoid regulation violations. The inventory could be used to prove a pole was buried prior to the creation of a certain rule in contest, for example.
It is likely that the City of Dover, the owner of the poles, will hold all liability to ensure the poles in the project comply with all regulations. Even if they had continued with the project and these issues were not discovered, the pole owner may have faced steep fines. Additionally, imagine a scenario where construction of these new poles actually did pose a flying hazard for pilots and caused an accident. The pole owner might then be held liable for whatever damage or injury were to incur along with potential related lawsuits.
NESC regulations and other state utility guidelines were developed for public safety and power reliablity, and the cost of incomplete regulatory reviews can be far greater than merely monetary.