[OPINION] Ugly Cables Mar Westport

Marliese Aguele — a Westporter since 1980 — writes:

How many more cables must we accept? On one post alone, I counted 16.

Major communication companies have installed heavy cables. Wrapped around them are additional rolled-up cables, adding more weight with metal tanks and other contraptions.

Cables are attached to leaning poles that threaten to collapse. Other cables droop dangerously low.  Who gives them the right to hang those cables so low?

Last month, these cables hung low on South Compo Road. (Photo/Morgan Mermagen)

Why does the town accept sloppy workmanship? Doesn’t anyone take responsibility for what happens here?

We can no longer enjoy an unobstructed view of the sky. Cables crisscross from street to street, and house to house.

When I asked about this, I was told they’re mandated by the state. I doubt it. Greenwich does not allow cables.

I’ve also learned that the town receives sizable revenue from these companies.

We’ve been sold out by our elected leaders, to technology and greed. Our trust in our representatives to be good stewards for town residents has been betrayed. The charm of Westport is destroyed.

Anyone with a sense of aesthetics must agree. Visitors to Westport must be astounded.

Cables crisscross the crowded Post Road/Roseville/Hillspoint intersection.

Westport citizens must demand that unacceptable cables be removed. We also must demand an ordinance to ensure responsibility and accountability of our elected representatives. Stop this now!

Is Marliese alone in her concern? Do the benefits of cables outweigh how they look? Click “Comments” below.

46 responses to “[OPINION] Ugly Cables Mar Westport

  1. Mark Yurkiw

    Telegraph & Telephone Companies were invited at the beginning of the last century to put up poles and even given special right of ways because people were desperate to be connected. Over a century later we burdened with what now we call “utility” poles carrying electricity, cable wires, phone wires, transformers, relay boxes, and many other devices. Utilities are now regulated by the government. No one wanted to upset the apple cart along the way and start putting these things underground because it would cost the companies and ultimately the cost would be passed on to the consumer. How smart was that? I believe it actually costs us more because of the maintenance after every storm and every time nature conspires to interrupt the services hanging in the air. Storms cause outages, trees cause outages, automobiles accidents cause outages, even squirrels cause outages. My guess is we are paying dearly for this political mistake of not thinking forward. Our “It’s a free country” culture is reactive, not proactive in nature. which is a blessing and a burden. Our elected officials need to make decisions for our futures without the fear of not getting re-elected because of the constituents think they “cost them money”. This is tragic in my opinion. I believe that this thinking costs us more than money, in this case, it mares our landscape and even cost lives when someone drives into these vestiges of another century, or someone’s power goes out for a week when there is a storm and their medical devices aren’t working.
    There is hope in spite of our short-sighted approach, but it will take another generation of people before the benefits are ubiquitous. Land Line phones, cable TV, and utility pole power will all disappear in the next century and possibly even this one. Solar Shingles (not solar panel) will give us power and even extend the life of our roof, Ocean Wind turbines, etc. Cable TV is already history according to the latest issue of Consumer Reports magazine (read it! it’s printed by the Consumers Union which has been serving us since the Great Depression) they will tell you how to use the new technology. Certainly Cell Phones have taken over and even surpassed Dick Tracy’s watches with the advent of the iPhone watch. In the next 20 years, we will see what would have been considered miracles previously, in science and technology. However, NONE of these things will save us from our selves as long as we continue to be reactive instead of proactive when we VOTE!

  2. Underground cables are the answer. They are expensive and will make life hell while being installed (the new water lines have proven as much) … however, in the long run, they are not only better for the environment, but in the end, will cost less. I would be interested to know how much the recent power outages have cost the town?

  3. Eva Lopez Reyman

    Underground cables! I’m agree

  4. Brandon Malin

    Underground cables will also lessen the strain on the fire department, who responds to multiple reports of wires down or low-hanging wires every day. This will allow more time for training, meetings, and other beneficial things, as well as giving them a break to rest. It will also lessen closed roads which will help traffic. There will need to be checks to make sure that the cables are placed a safe distance underground (and in proper protective materials like PVC piping), and CBYD (call before you dig) calls will need to increase (we don’t want excavators building new homes to hit a power cable!)

    I have tried to get pictures of the minute man statue multiple times, whether that be from the ground or by drone (not over people or the road of course), and cables have always gotten in the way. It would be nice to see that area cleaned up.

  5. Luisa Francoeur

    Underground!!!

  6. Agreed – underground!! Just consider the aesthetics. Next time you are driving on the Post Rd., try to imagine it without the poles and wires and cables. This is just one more plus for burying the lines.

  7. At a minimum and immediately- all the low hanging cables must be raised to a level where they can’t touch anyone walking!!. For weeks we see them on our walks on South Compo and when we drive around town!

    Then we should see what it takes to get the cables put underground!!

  8. There’s a homeowner’s group somewhere in town that just got permission from the Board of Selectmen to do this – on it’s own nickel, of course – for some road frontage that I assume is in its viewshed. Totally cool idea. However, based on personal experience, I would encourage anyone thinking of doing the same thing to make sure you’ve consumed several adult beverages before looking at the estimate when it arrives. Because you’re gonna freak.

    • It is nine homeowners along Hillspoint Road to South Compo. It’s maybe a quarter of a mile in distance. The estimated cost is $2.7 MM for that small stretch. At the moment is has been withdrawn from a commission (P&Z? I can’t find the notice this second). With those numbers it is $10 MM plus a miles.
      Looking at the wires that sag or are coiled up, both seem to be work by Altice/Cablevision and Frontier. Cablevision’s original buildout of Fairfield County was in the early eighties. It was a 52 channel system with the ability to activate and send info from a homeowners set top box. Obviously the capabilities have changed since then. But the wires may not. We could be using 30 year old lines (or even 15) that need upgraded. Neither company wants to disconnect their subscribers so both old and new systems are in place. I imagine they will remove the old wires once everything is changed over.
      Frontier inherited the old SNET cable system which never really launched before SBC acquired SNET. Those lines have been there a long time. If you look closely you can see they are cut from the transmission equipment and just need to be removed. Frontier are the lowest lines, Altice/Cablevision as the middle lines.
      Finally the CT Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA http://www.ct.gov/pura/ ) oversees the utilities. They have an obligation to the public by keeping an eye on utilities as well as the making sure the suppliers live up to their end of the bargain. BTW, IANAL and this is all IMHO. :^)

  9. William Strittmatter

    Morley is right.

    I’d really be curious how much more everyone advocating underground utilities would be willing to pay (and make their less wire offended neighbors pay) to “bury the lines”. 25%/50%/100% increase in your electric transmission bill? One time $10,000 /$25,000/$50,000 fee? More? Less?

    Interestingly, electric utilities would probably be more than happy to bury the power lines given how they earn money as monopolies – a regulated return on what they have invested. Since burying the lines would cost a lot of money, their rate base would grow letting them earn more. The problem, of course, is the “rate shock” all of their customers would experience when they need to raise their rates to cover the cost plus regulated returns. The inevitable screaming pretty much ensures this will never get past the regulators unless mandated by local government.

    Telephone and cable companies would be less motivated given lesser ability to raise prices given wireless competition

    So, as you advocate underground utilities, how much are you willing to pay?

    Oh, and as a side note, will you be at all bothered by the removal of all the trees along the right of way so they can bury the cables?

    • Regarding trees; I’d like to see the ones that are too close to the roadway removed that have caused an accident anyway. I’m all for trees but have you seen all the ones that are scarred from cars sideswiping them? Furthermore, those are the trees that need expensive maintenance and interfere with the wires anyway. Lastly, much of the work can be done under the existing roadway, I’ve watched that done many times.
      Perhaps we should get all the facts straight before we jump to conclusions..(.unless you happen to be the chief engineer for the utility company)
      Regarding cost; First, read my original comment at the top of the comments section, the cost can be amortized over time, and the saving from maintenance presently can be a contributing factor as well as all the emergency overtime that is spent now.

      • William Strittmatter

        No, I’m not the chief engineer for a utility. Are you?

        However, in a previous life I have financed a number of electric utilities as well as cable and telephone companies and have seen the alternative cost of underground versus overhead new construction as well as long term maintenance estimates. Anywhere from 3 to 6 times as expensive for new construction. More if you are ripping up roads. Cost of retrofitting is the cost of new construction on top of the unamortized cost of the old network which still has to be paid for. Here is an article on the subject:

        https://www.elp.com/articles/powergrid_international/print/volume-18/issue-2/features/underground-vs-overhead-power-line-installation-cost-comparison-.html

        There are plenty of others.

        There may or may not be long term maintenance cost savings as noted in the article.

        And, of course you can amortize the cost – which is why I asked about how much higher you’d like your electric transmission rates to be.

        Lovely that you buried your lines per your comment below. I have buried lines too. Not terribly expensive to the house (or even a random couple hundred feet). The expensive part is burying the entire transmission network which is what most people see and react to.

        You might consider getting your facts straight before blithely dismissing the costs.

  10. Marliese Aguele

    I have also been told that cables are installed underground on new houses
    in Westport.
    marliese

    • I installed all utilities underground in my antique home and it was not an outragous cost especially considering how much it improved my 1790 home.
      Anyone who wants advice on how to get it done can reach out to me

      • Eleanor Sasso

        Sounds wonderful, Mark! There is no doubt that aesthetics are greatly improved as is continued service during our many outages.
        Weston has had underground cables for decades. What foresight!

        • Jens Buettner

          That’s not correct, Weston only has underground cables in a small area close to the town center. with every storm Weston has thousands of people with out electricity, so there is not that much foresight actually.

  11. It would be useful to see an informed estimate of the project cost, along with some notion of how this cost would filter down to us on our individual bills. Otherwise, none of us have much basis for an opinion here, other than to say getting rid of the wires would be nice. Which it would, of course.

  12. Tom Kashetta

    I you happen to run into one of these poles even at a very slow speed they snap because of all the added weight from there wires. Your insurance company there gets a bill for over fifteen thousand dollars to replace it. Also many trucks have snaged low hanging wires and have either caused damage to the truck or snapped the pole. The utility companies want to know nothing. Just keep adding more weight to the poles. It’s a joke !!!!!

  13. Michael Calise

    I want to drive but I don’t want the traffic
    I want the services and improvements but I want low taxes and fees
    I want power and communications but I don’t want to see the lines
    I want! I want! I want!!!

    • Nancy Hunter

      I like your comment. It sums up a lot of what is dividing people these days.

    • Mark Yurkiw

      Dear Mr. Calise… well said. Human nature is to want things to improve while nothing changes.

  14. There was a report on Ch. 7(?) about a month ago about Con Ed originally proposing to bury wires in part of Westchester County. They dropped the idea based on the cost. I would love to see all the cables buried but to do the whole town would cost a fortune and take years. Maybe they could start with the Post Road and a few major ton roads.

    • That second to last word should have been “town” (such as N/S Compo Road, North Avenue, Cross Highway, etc.).

  15. A lot of the cables are no longer used. The cable company strings new cables and just leaves the old ones. I think this is crazy. Take the old ones down….

  16. A former CL&P employee who asks for anonymity says:

    “Hi Dan – I guess an interesting blog opinion writer – at least it drew many commenters out, including some of your regulars! Even had two opposing view points invoking ‘utility engineers’! Just between us two old timers, many Connecticut towns, including Westport, have inquired about undergrounding existing overhead utilities, almost always for aesthetics. And with extremely few exceptions in my 37 years st CL&P, they didn’t get beyond preliminary discussions due to cost. A few places in Westport did get short stretches placed underground, but were funded by either a small group of neighbors fronting the project, or even one wealthy individual – Hillspoint Road from just past the Bluewater Hill kayak rack to near the jetty at the intersection w Soundview and South Compo is one place; at Beachside Avenue near Sasco Creek Rd by the property with two stone pillars with lions on top is a second place; and a short stretch of Red Coat Road in front of the wealthy former owner of US Surgical is a third place that come to mind, in Westport. Your opinion writer is wrong about Greenwich / they have overhead utilities on most roads. They might not like them but they can’t prohibit them. Most towns do require new ‘subdivisions’ to place utilities underground – so since those local laws were invoked in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, a gradual increase in underground utility percentage of the whole system has occurred but it’s probably still in the 10 to 15 % of total linear mileage range statewide. And Downtown Westport, some five of six square blocks is totally underground due to a network installed sometime in the immediate post World War II era – as is downtown Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Ridgefield, Norwalk and Danbury. All installed in that same post war era, but only the center of each municipality – all other roads in these towns have overhead wires on poles. The writer thinks Weston is different – they aren’t – they just had many more residential subdivisions built with new roads since the late 1960’s, when underground utility construction took hold.”

  17. Matt Murray

    This^^^

  18. William Strittmatter

    You might check again on how much Eurpoean’s pay for electricity. It is generally higher per kWh. Here is a reference:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_pricing

    On the other hand, I understand Eurpoeans generally use less electricity so the overall electricity bill may very well be lower even though they pay higher prices.

  19. I have been looking at the proposed area for underground line since it came up on the town announce list. The lines go underground at the intersection of Soundview/South Compo/Hillspoint.Roads. They resurface at 272 Hillspoint. I’d guess the folks from that point on to #244 are the folks looking to get the public lines underground.

    • The retired CL&P employee asked me to pass this along too:

      I heard of this potential undergrounding at least a year before retiring(June 1 2013), so this has been under study for well over six years. To convert an existing overhead street to underground, 100% of existing homes or buildings with existing overhead service must agree to convert to underground; the utilities(Eversource, Frontier and CATV) all require 100% reimbursement of all related costs – engineering estimates/design, new materials to be installed, plus depreciated ‘useful life’ costs of all materials being removed, plus all labor, vehicles, etc – plus trenching and all pavement and property repairs caused by construction, all necessary easements, etc. And normally all this paid for in advance of scheduling the work. And all work on the resident’s property to convert to underground is paid for separately by each homeowner – trenching, conduit, conversion of meter and incoming service wires to the underground using licensed electricians, etc.
      Plus the overhead system remains in place until all new underground facilities are installed and all homes are converted to the new supply.

      Once all this is communicated to the parties involved, most never proceed even to the preliminary engineering stage.

      • Mark Yurkiw

        Hmmm…I’m perplexed why a for-profit cable company like Frontier is entitled to upfront reimbursement. Who gave them that in a contract?

        • Mark Yurkiw

          Additionally…when AT&T gave me underground cable access they never asked me for more money…..and why would it all need to get paid upfront, are they going to do all the work simultaneously for everyone, come on? ….and why wouldn’t the removed wiring be repurposed and power wires with copper not be either reused or at the very least sold as scrap metal. (it’s worth a lot).
          Of course, all that work needs to be done, is there no recourse for how it gets paid for? What about a 30year municipal bond by the town that can get amortized in the tax structure. Oh, I forgot, no one wants to pay more taxes… even if it saves us money and lives in the long run, not to mention the aesthetics.

  20. Bill Boyd (staples 66)

    ‘Sold out by technology And greed..,,’ you got that right….that covers everything from our last election to every waking minute…..the cables are an eyesore too.

  21. Marliese Aguele

    marliese aguele
    It is hard to believe that the companies left old wires, just adding new ones. That should not be accepted – simply sloppy workmanship. They need to be removed. That is the least we can expect from the town. Huge trees get entangled with cables creating more hazards. Our concerns need to be addressed. Who is in charge to represent the residents??

  22. Iain Bruce

    This utopia would require the excavation of every single street in Westport. Every. Single. Street. That’s 332 town roads for 123 miles, plus 460 private roads, plus numerous state roads amounting to perhaps another 30 or so miles (Riverside Ave, Saugatuck Ave, Wilton Road, Easton Road, Weston Road, the Post Road, North and South Compo, etc). Every road dug up, electric distribution system buried, and the road repaved (probably poorly, judging by what we see every time this is done). Every single yard in town dug up, except those recently constructed which have buried their drops. There are something like 8,000 households in Westport. Not every one a house, but thousands of homes. And a couple of thousand businesses.

    The major arteries in town already carry water lines, sewer lines, and gas mains. Threading an electric distribution system among the utilities already buried would not be cheap. The electric system would often have to go deep, underneath the other utilities already there, substantially increasing its cost, considering that Connecticut is made mostly of rock.

    Burying the drop to your house is a simple matter. Burying an entire distribution system is not. Wires have to be enclosed in conduits. Access has to be available at frequent points for maintenance, which means manholes everywhere. Transformers (amusingly referred to in the letter as “metal tanks and other contraptions”) have to be buried and yet remain accessible.

    It’s not at all clear that maintenance of an underground system is cheaper. True, trees would no longer fell lines, but water, especially salt water, and energised copper don’t get along very well. And in a New England winter, all water on the roads is salt water. How often would streets have to be dug up for flood-related repair? A system can be built with this in mind, but it’s costly and it will still fail from time to time.

    When I was financing utilities 20 years ago, the rule of thumb for the cost of burying lines was $1mm/mile. It’s well more than that now, as noted in the specific example of South Compo Road cited above. Let’s say it’s now $2mm/mile. It will be much more in some places, and less elsewhere. Let’s say 150 miles of road (though we certainly have more). Let’s assume that CL&P’s allowed return on rate base is 7% (their allowed ROE is over 9%, but debt makes up a big hunk of their capital structure). And let’s assume 10,000 customers in Westport. These are all assumptions, mind you, but not unreasonable ones. Under these assumptions, amortising the cost of burying the electric distribution system in town would be about $2,000 per annum for the average customer. For 30 years.

    Our electric rates are already among the highest in the country. Are the proponents of this idea prepared to demand that each of their neighbours pay an extra $2,000/year for their electricity for aesthetic reasons? I suspect the Town Hall auditorium is not large enough to accommodate the public hearings this would produce.

  23. Mark Yurkiw

    They did it for 8 million people in N.Y.C. and you are telling me that doing it for 25 thousand people is a problem?

    • William Strittmatter

      Two words: population density. That and the blizzard of 1888. Outside Manhattan (i.e. Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx and Staten Island) a considerable part of the NYC distribution network is above ground.

      • Mark Yurkiw

        Mr. Strittimatter….where in the boroughs are they substantially above ground other than maybe Staten island? I must have missed them in the Bronx, Queens, and Bklyn that I’ve traveled. I’m sure they can be found but I don’t believe they are substantial but the exception.

        • William Strittmatter

          Please note, I said considerable, not substantial. In any event, a map of NYC showing areas served by underground versus overhead utilities is on page 3 of linked study by the Office of the Mayor, NYC. Per page 4 of the same study, Queens had 6,968 miles of overhead cables representing 22% of network, Brooklyn 3,538 miles (12%), Bronx 2,667 miles (20%) and Staten Island 7,130 miles (72%). Lower density is noted in the study as a reason why overhead rather than underground lines were used.

          http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/downloads/pdf/power_lines_study_2013.pdf

          Although this was a 2013 study, the data is unlikely to have changed significantly as, among other conclusions, the report noted: “By any measure, the conversion of overhead distribution to underground is cost prohibitive.” A potential tripling of retail rates for all non-Manhattan ratepayers to underground the remaining overhead lines is referenced elsewhere in the study .

          Somewhat off topic on NYC coverage but with respect to the cost of undergrounding more generally, there is this paragraph:

          “A recent study recently issued by a national utility industry trade group, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), attached hereto as Appendix B, found that over the last ten years, at least eleven studies or reports have been generated by various states on the merits of undergrounding overhead electric lines as a means of dealing with the impact of large storms. To date, however, no state utility commission has recommended wholesale undergrounding of the utility infrastructure. EEI conducted surveys of consumers’ willingness to pay for underground infrastructure, and found that residents typically were willing to pay an additional 0-10% on the monthly retail bill for enhanced security from undergrounding. However, the EEI study also found that the capital cost associated with undergrounding entire utility systems would, on average, double residential retail bill charges.”

  24. Kathleen Brady

    I can not believe I was just talking to my husband about this a few hours ago and now reading this post. I agree there are way too many wires. It is not pretty.
    Also I do not understand all the building on route 1 when there are so many vacancies!!
    It does not seem like the leaders of Westport are concerned with aesthic.

  25. Don Bergmann

    I think most of us would like to the wires placed underground, but there is a big cost issue. I also think all of us would like to see fewer wires and no sagging or looped wires. My guess is that can and should be accomplished. So, how do we get what people say they would prefer. David Waldman, with his Elm Street project, will generate funds to bury the wires there, The Hillspoint Rd. neighbors are awaiting a determination as to whether an effective lien for the cost can be placed on their properties. If there is a legal issue there, we need to change the law since there appears to be only an upside. As to other possibilities, we put our house lines underground, no big deal. Our zoning rules require underground lines in certain circumstances. We all should think of and communicate ways to achieve this goal, maybe a goal not wanted enough to pay for, but certainly a goal preferred by most and that should generate engagement.
    Don Bergmann

    • Our little ranch house in Greenfield Hill, Fairfield, was built in 1951 and all the wires leading into it are underground. Unfortunately, we can see the wires on the street, but foliage mostly blocks them.

  26. The town, thanks to a state restriction, does not have the ability to benefit assess Cable, like it does for Sewers, Water Manes etc. Just imagine if we did not have these restrictions, how many of these ugly cables could have been buried. This is why we need change in Hartford. State statutes provide a means to finance the construction of other non-utility sewer or water mane projects by assessing the properties that benefit from that service. The town puts the money upfront and and the residents who are using this service pay it off over time. These charges are based on the concept of assessing only those properties that directly benefit from the services or improvements financed.