Oregon City Council is reviewing a proposed ordinance that would allow the city to manage its right-of-way by permitting reasonable access, conserve capacity and ensure the rights-of-way are protected.
City Law Director Paul Goldberg at a committee of the whole meeting last month said the city has been discussing ways to protect the rights-of-way for a long time.
“We had thought some time ago that it was appropriate, and the state legislature is giving the city the authority to control our own rights-of-ways,” he said. “We started working on this thing a year-and-a-half ago. This is a lengthy ordinance. We did look at it internally three or four times and made a number of changes. We invited all the utility companies that have utilities in our city rights-of-way to several meetings. We got their comments. We didn’t want to make it too onerous on them, so we did make some substantial changes to try and fit in with what they thought was appropriate but still protects the city’s interest.”
Goldberg suggested that the ordinance should be discussed further and that it get three readings.
“The main thing is to ensure our rights-of-way are protected. Anyone who is going to occupy our rights-of-way are going to have to have a permit, and give us all sorts of information,” said Goldberg, adding that Public Service Director Paul Roman needs such information to protect the city’s water and sewer lines in the rights-of-way.
“There’s a lot of language in here about what they have to do if they’re going to excavate or put in new facilities. This is not an ordinance to make money for the city. We have a $250 permit fee, and at this point, it’s just for companies that are not in our right-of-way. For those who are already in our right-of-way, they would just have to apply for a permit, and they would get it, at no charge. I know what the $64,000 question is. Some on council, I’m guessing, would say, `Are the lines going underground or above ground? What are we going to do with this?’ We have that covered in one section, where it says `except for overhead facilities, as currently exists, or is provided herein, no facilities, except for cable pedestals and above ground pressure line equipment, shall be located above ground in a public right of way without the express written permission of [Administrator] Mike Beazley. We already have the provision in subdivisions, they have to be underground. So we are requiring in many instances here that these be underground, but it’s up to the city administrator,” said Goldberg.
Another provision in the proposed ordinance states that the administrator may waive any of the requirements upon a showing of good cause, and are assumed to be in the best interests of the city, added Goldberg.
“That just seems reasonable to put in there because there’s so many requirements that it may be in our best interests to waive some of those from time to time in a fair manner,” he said.
There is also a provision that require companies to carry insurance if they are going to be in the city’s right-of-way, he said.
“There’s provisions of what’s going to happen if they do some damage in the right-of-way. At the end, there’s a penalty clause which makes it a minor misdemeanor punishable by not more than a $100 fine. But each violation is separate and each day would be a continuing violation. If some big company comes in and doesn’t mind spending the money, they could have six or seven violations, at $600 or $700 per day, potentially,” said Goldberg.
Roman said the proposed ordinance may be unique to the area.
“I think this type of ordinance may be new to the area. I’m not too sure that there’s many with this type of language. It really just puts more teeth in controlling what occurs in the right-of-way,” said Roman.
Councilman Sandy Bihn said she often sees projects where new lines are installed, especially the cable company, above ground creating an unsightly “canopy of wires that are unnecessary.”
“Oftentimes, when we have new subdivisions, we’ll see the new subdivision having underground wiring, and then the main streets getting the canopies, and more poles,” said Bihn. “I would like to see that you have to go underground, that you cannot put in more poles. It just seems that at some point, we need to stop and not continue. We see it all the time. And we see new poles going up for AT&T. That wouldn’t be allowed in Maumee and Perrysburg. The utilities say it’s more expensive and harder to maintain by going underground. Then why is it possible to do it in those communities and not in ours? “Mr. Roman and I talked about if we just got rid of the canopies – even though it’s not underground- we would be moving in the right direction.”
Beazley said the proposed ordinance “takes ownership and provides for knowledge about what’s going to be in the rights-of-way.”
“Some communities, especially smaller ones, have prohibited any new above ground wires. But this ordinance does not do that,” said Beazley.
Beazley said he would look at how other communities of similar size to Oregon handle such issues.
“I have a general sense of how most of them are doing it, but I’ll get some answers to that,” said Beazley.
“This is important, new legislation being added to our city codes,” said Councilman Mike Sheehy. “It is quite lengthy. Even the definitions are new for some members of council who have never been exposed to this type of legislation. I think it’s a learning experience for most of us. I would certainly agree, for those reasons, and also for the reasons of letting companies like Toledo Edison, the cable company, and the gas company, know that this is in the works. I think it would be prudent to at least hold a committee meeting and also have the three readings. We’re certainly not going to hurry it at this point, but it’s important to move it forward. It’s an important improvement for our community.”
Goldberg said that all the utilities who are in the city rights-of-way have already been notified about the proposed ordinance and had been invited to discuss the matter.