Utility pole profusion


To the Editor:

It was a little over four weeks ago in Vineyard Haven where what did appear on the lower part of Spring Street but brand [new] NSTAR utility poles right by the existing ones. As a visual artist and someone who has closely followed the business practices of the utility companies in the greater Boston area, I feel compelled to point out some facts on the ground, so the fine town of Tisbury knows what may stand in the future.

First. You should know that state law demands the removal of those old poles within the time frame of 90 days, meaning that all cable, telephone, and any and all lines be transferred over to the new pole and the old pole promptly removed, not only for the obvious aesthetics, but public safety as well.

In reality though, this is a widely ignored law, as there are no fines or sanctions for the utility companies to face if they neglect to do this. In other words, unless you take the extra effort to locally hold the various utility company’s feet to the fire, using leverage in hand, you better get used to seeing those ugly double poles long into the future.

These corporations have refused to manage the problem effectively, reduced their workforces significantly in the maintenance of their infrastructure, illustrated in their performance in the Halloween storm in central Massachusetts, but they do continue to get creative. Note the relatively new phenomenon of cutting the bottom portion of the old pole while leaving the top portion bracketed to the newer pole (see the photo of the Cafe Moxie building dead center on Main street). Now that’s some street art.

You do have an opportunity to apply pressure to at least one of the parties that are often slow in transferring lines. The Island is in renegotiation with Comcast and as part of that new contract, the Island towns should together demand as part of a new license grant that the company strictly comply with the law and transfer over all current lines to any adjacent poles. If Verizon applies for additional cell phone towers anywhere on the Island, they too should similarly compelled.

As a possible remedy, there is a proposed state law currently in the Department of Telecommunications and Energy Committee( H.1769 ) that will empower towns such as Tisbury to levy a $1,000 fine for every double pole violation exceeding the 90-day period. This is sponsored by the Massachusetts Municipal Association, and of course vehemently opposed by the utility companies and their lobbyists. I urge you to make your selectman and state lawmakers aware if you support this proposal. We have also established a Facebook page addressing the issue and providing extensive background on this vexing problem. We welcome feedback and even your posted photos of that ancient double pole on your very own street (http://www.facebook.com/doublepolesareblight).

We should not allow our cherished public spaces to be brutalized visually, held hostage to the aggressive cost-cutting motives of very profitable off-Island corporations. This has nothing to do with providing reliable service, but more about paying respect for the communities where they are granted often an exclusive right to do business.

An obvious solution for Main Street, Vineyard Haven, the year-round gateway of the Island that brands itself as a special place, is to place lines underground in conduits as was done on Edgartown’s Water Street, to everyone’s delight. The improvement in the appearance of your common public space I assure you will be remarkable and well worth financing by the method of a public bond. It is also a most prudent project to begin planning with climate change already upon us and storm activity surely increasing. The charm of a revitalized Main Street may just help fill some of those downtown vacant spaces with new businesses and vibrancy.

Meanwhile back on Spring Street, we watch and wait to see if the utility companies step up and complete their mandated task in the timely manner required. The clock ticks for thee.

Martin Hanley

Tisbury and Dedham