It costs customer to move utility


July 15, 2008|By DAN THANH DANG

The Q:

Kathleen Chance wants to put an above-ground pool in the back of her Baltimore home, but she says that utility lines droop dangerously low through her yard.

"The electrical line has been this way for 40 years and has prevented us from doing anything with our backyard," Chance said. "We have tried over the years to get this wire moved, but have failed. And not only does that electrical line cross over the backyard to the utility pole, but we also have four other wires that cross our backyard to that same pole from our neighbors' yards."

Chance contacted BGE about moving the wires.

"They are willing to move the wires, but it requires us to first have an electrician that we have to hire to do a lot of work that may cost us out-of-pocket anywhere from $200 to $800," Chance said. "I don't think any of this is fair for us to put money out of our pockets to have wires moved, [which] was a result of carelessness, cutting corners, bad planning and irresponsibility by BGE, the cable company and phone company."

"I believe it is a dangerous situation in our backyard," she said.

The pool, Chance said, is necessary to help her ailing mother with rehabilitation for a broken hip.

"I am hoping you can help us with having these wires moved without cost to us," Chance said.

The A:

When it comes to utility issues, almost everyone knows that it's the homeowner's responsibility to fix or pay for problems inside the house. Utility companies, however, are usually responsible for problems that pop up with the lines outside your house, in most cases.

I say usually and in most cases because, as we know, there are always exceptions.

BGE and other utilities control the use of your land near overhead and underground power lines, gas pipelines and substations. Utilities hold this right for consumer safety and to allow workers access to such facilities at all times.

An easement can affect the use of your property by controlling what you can build, whether trees can be planted, how trees and other vegetation may be maintained, and what outdoor activities you can carry out on the easement. According to BGE, examples of permitted uses of the easements are gardens, patrol by law enforcement officials and farming. Examples of nonpermitted uses are structures, swimming pools and septic fields or wells because such uses may create personal safety problems.

Workers and residents should know that the Maryland High Voltage Line Act sets a 10-foot safety zone around overhead utility lines. Individuals or equipment are strictly prohibited from working within the safety zone. Any person who violates any provision of the act is subject to a fine, imprisonment, or both.

The National Electrical Safety Code also requires specific distances between utility facilities, such as overhead lines, and other structures such as houses and pools. The distances vary based on the type of utility facilities and the type of structures being put up. Whether erecting a building, installing a pool, or adding a deck, it is the homeowner's responsibility to know the distance requirements and abide by the law.

This is not to say you can't have those wires moved. Chance can, but doing so will probably come at her expense.

BGE's Tariff, under permissions and rights of ways, says: "Application for service constitutes permission to install main or service line extensions, or portions thereof, on the owner's property where such extension is solely for his or his tenant's use. Suitable rights-of-way are required for all other extensions, including the right to extend main or service line along and adjacent to thoroughfares and lot lines to adjacent properties. Any subsequent relocation of all or part of such extensions made at the request of any owner or tenant or required in the opinion of the Company, by any change in structure or other activity of such owner or tenant, shall require payment by him of the Company's charges, for such relocation."

In other words, "BGE has the right of way for permitting wires to cross a customer's yard, and it is our responsibility for ensuring that equipment is installed and operating in accordance with the proper safety guidelines," said Kelly Shanefelter, a BGE spokeswoman. "That being said, when a customer makes changes - such as a building addition, or a pool or deck - that require the relocation of equipment, the customer is responsible for the cost. Customers requesting equipment relocations must pay the costs of the relocation because it would be unfair for all of BGE's customers to pay costs that wouldn't otherwise be incurred and only provide benefits to one customer," she said.

"For safety reasons a pool requires a greater clearance than would otherwise be required," Shanefelter said. "As a rule of thumb, we advise customers to contact us before doing any work that is within 10 feet of an overhead line."

Chance can contest this interpretation of her situation by filing a complaint with the Maryland Public Service Commission, which oversees utilities in the state.

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