Issue with low hanging lines gains traction

Published 10:41 am Thursday, August 17, 2023

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GATESVILLE – It appears that an issue initially addressed in Gates County is gaining traction at the state level.

In April, Erna Bright, a retired technician from CenturyLink who serves as the Chair of the county’s Broadband Task Force, told the Gates County Commissioners that while tracking the local installation of fiber optic lines across the county, he noted the placement of the aerial fiber is too low on joint use poles in some locations.

Bright added that the low-hanging lines are more prevalent in farm fields where the fiber lines are strung across longer spans (between poles, 200 to 300 feet apart).

However, Bright said that one contractor immediately cited a North Carolina General Statute regarding utility wires, which lists the minimum vertical clearance at 15 and one-half feet. That minimum height increases to 18 feet when a utility line crosses a state-maintained road.

“When there are poles in a farmer’s field, it seems like they [contractors] want to put [the lines] at whatever height they desire,” Bright noted during his presentation on April 19. “I have measured them as low as nine feet and 13 feet….very few at 15 and one-half feet. A million-dollar combine picking cotton won’t quite make it under that wire.”

That issue led the commissioners approving a letter at their May meeting to send to Steve Troxler, North Carolina’s Commissioner of Agriculture. The county, in the letter, expressed their desire to seek his leadership and support in bringing awareness to the regulatory conflict between modern farming practices utilizing larger, more efficient equipment and the national electrical safety codes which are more than 40 years old.

At the most recent meeting of the county commissioners, Bright provided an update, saying he attended a July 17 meeting in Raleigh attended by group of 30 stakeholders regarding issues with low hanging lines in rural farming areas where broadband is currently being installed. That group included officials with Troxler’s office as well as those with the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation and the North Carolina Soybean Council.

“The most interesting thing brought to our attention was from Larry Sanders, who is in charge of all the right-of-ways for utilities in the state of North Carolina,” Bright said at the July 20 meeting of the commissioners. “North Carolina has given utilities a blanket permit, they can do whatever they want to. Different types of roads have different right-of-ways. Power lines within those right-of-ways should be no lower than 18 feet. They can be as low as 13 feet…as low as nine feet across a driveway. There’s no way a [farm] combine will fit under any of this. It looks like 18 feet 8 inches is the working height on most farm equipment.”

Bright said that Roanoke Connect [Fybe] “will do what is right and replace their lines or plow it [put it underground] in farm fields.”

“They [Fybe] said it would be a process because they don’t have enough contractors to change all of it, but they will do what they can,” Bright said.

He noted a North Carolina General State Statute that says anybody that tears down a line that’s over 12 foot, 6 inches is responsible for the replacement/repair.

“Some [stakeholders] want to change that legislation to at least 19 or 20 feet,” Bright said.

Bright is scheduled to give another update at this week’s (Aug. 16) meeting of the county commissioners.


About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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