Who Owns That Old, Abandoned Pole?

By October 16, 2014 February 19th, 2015 uPDate

By Steve Conover

Joint-use agreements between power companies and telephone/cable companies have been around for many years. Nearly all old joint-use contracts contain at least some verbiage that has become outdated over the years, and typically there are many procedures outlined in these contracts that both entities fall short in fulfilling. It’s not uncommon for relationships between the entities to become somewhat strained; hence, attempts to modify contracts are often avoided by both parties for fear of further complicating these matters.

While there are many issues that should be addressed concerning joint-use, one matter that deserves immediate attention is the question of ownership of abandoned poles. Who really owns that old, abandoned pole once the power company moves its facilities to a new pole, and who is responsible if the old pole breaks and causes injury or damage?

To answer these important questions, you must look at the terms of your joint-use contract, your procedures, and your documentation to determine where you stand in a situation like this. The following suggestions contain some of the most important guidelines to get you started in this process:

  • When reviewing your contract be sure to read the entire contract, and check it closely
    In many old agreements, the terms for the transfer of pole ownership are stated in multiple ways, depending on the circumstances, and are found in different sections of the contract. For example, it is typical to find one set of provisions for transferring ownership that are to be followed when replacing or relocating a jointly used pole, and another set of provisions to be used for “abandonment” of a jointly used pole. Often these terms can be vague, and a utility may even need to consult legal counsel in order to make proper determinations.
  • Be sure that your documentation concerning transfer of ownership is adequate and that you will be able to produce it several years down the road
    Many utilities may prepare proper documentation, but lack a system that would help them to produce documentation on a specific pole years later. A pole location described by GPS coordinates and kept in a computerized database that links to the transfer of ownership documentation should solve this problem.
  • Devise a plan to deal with both past and future transfer of ownership matters
    Setting up procedures to take care of future pole ownership documentation will probably be easier than fixing the lack of proper documentation from the past. There are several ways that this can be approached, and many utilities feel that doing it in an organized manner – such as by circuit, district, or other geographic designation – works best. Each utility should look at its own particular situation to decide the best methods and define the scope of the project.
  • Consider all of the ramifications of your actions
    It’s hard to imagine that removing liability from a potentially hazardous pole could have a negative side, but it is possible. One example is that, if ownership is positively transferred to another entity, you may no longer be able to collect joint-use attachment fees, and the other entity may indefinitely put off transferring from the old poles to your new poles.

In summary, working through these issues takes time, resources, and a companywide commitment to addressing them. Patterson & Dewar offers a wide variety of services to assist our clients with joint-use including:

  • Calculating and negotiating fair attachment rates per contract formulas
  • Evaluating and preparing reports on the pros/cons of current contracts
  • Writing or assisting with new, more appropriate joint-use contracts
  • Taking a lead or support role in negotiating new contracts with telephone/cable companies
  • Assisting with setting up procedures to help manage and document abandoned poles, transfers, or other joint-use activities
  • Helping to prepare and/or negotiate transfer agreements with telephone/cable companies
  • Meeting with and/or training key employees in all aspects of joint-use
  • Assisting with field inventory of joint use attachments and field mapping of joint-use facilities

For more information about our joint-use services please contact us.