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Power Co. Wants to Move Existing Lines - I Don't Want To

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Latest post Thu, Sep 24 2015 1:41 PM by ca19lawyer2. 6 replies.
  • Wed, Sep 23 2015 6:52 PM

    • cm018
      Consumer
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    • VA
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    Question [=?] Power Co. Wants to Move Existing Lines - I Don't Want To

    When my family purchased our property around 1987, there was an easement with the power and phone company for them to run lines above ground. These lines essentially provide power and phone services to several neighbors, including me.

    The power company now wants to place their lines underground on my property. They are harassing me to give them permission. I would prefer to keep the lines above ground for other legal reasons that are going to be problematic and costly for me (I'll discuss this in more detail later).

    My question (for now) would be: Seeing as how the power company already has an easement for above ground lines, can they force me to grant them permission to bury the lines? They keep throwing around the term "eminent domain" as if I'm prohibiting something. I don't know how they can take something they already have. They already have lines on my property and the neighbors all have power. What is my legal right here?

  • Wed, Sep 23 2015 9:47 PM In reply to

    Re: Power Co. Wants to Move Existing Lines - I Don't Want To

    The power company may well have the right to bury the lines now along the existing easement that it has. If so, there won’t be anything you can do to prevent it. Look closely at the terms of the existing easement to see what rights it grants the power company.

    Does the power company want to run these lines long the same path as the poles that are now in place or does it want to use a different path? 

    If you refuse, the power company may well be able to get what it wants through eminient domain, but that may cost the power to provide you some compensation for it. 

    What is your issue with the power company’s plans?

  • Thu, Sep 24 2015 8:06 AM In reply to

    • DPH
      Consumer
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    • Joined on Mon, Oct 8 2001
    • TX
    • Posts 7,875

    Re: Power Co. Wants to Move Existing Lines - I Don't Want To

    cm018:
    When my family purchased our property around 1987, there was an easement with the power and phone company for them to run lines above ground.

    Do you have any reason to believe that the use of this easement is exclusively limited to aerial use?  If so, what is that reason? 

    If the existing electrical and telephone service is within a dedicated utility easement you may not have the option of refusing the utility companies access or their desire to bury the plant equipment.

    cm018:
    can they force me to grant them permission to bury the lines?
     

    One answer would be that they may not actually need your permission at this point.  In my state, the existence of the utility easement would allow the utility companies the right to either buried or aerial placement without further permission.  Your state may be different and the exact type of easement is likely important. 

    Do you live in a rural area or city setting?  Does the existing utility service run behind all of the houses and then feed the individual residences, etc? 

     

     

    "Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience."  -  Mark Twain

     

  • Thu, Sep 24 2015 8:48 AM In reply to

    • cm018
      Consumer
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    • Joined on Thu, Sep 24 2015
    • VA
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    Re: Power Co. Wants to Move Existing Lines - I Don't Want To

    Thanks for the responses and help.

    Here is my issue:

    I was told by Comcast that there is a law that took affect around 1996 (I think), where a utility may run their lines along someone's property without permission ONLY IF the power company has permission first. So as long as the power company has permission, all the other utilities don't need permission. Prior to this law, all utilities had to obtain permission from the property owner.

    Around 1990, the cable co. illegally installed cable on my property. The family owns part of a private road that runs along side our house and that is where all the utility lines are. The family got a contract from the cable co. that states we are to receive "free cable services for life." I'll have to lookup the exact wording, but it is a very, very simple contract.

    If the power company places their lines underground, the family is worried what will happen with the cable co. contract. Since newer laws permit them to piggyback with the power company, we're concerned this will void the existing agreement since the cable co. will probably relocate some of their lines. It's unclear whether they would still have to provide free cable. They say no, but the contract says "free cable services for life" not free cable for as long as the lines are on your property in their current location.

    Some additional info:

    • The power company has lines above ground on my property along side a private road that I own.
    • The cable company has lines both above and below ground where the power comany lines are currently located.
    • The cable co. uses the power company's poles for the above ground equipment like the taps.
    • It's unclear whether the cable co. can bury all of their lines since the taps and that type of equipment probably needs to be above ground.
    • It's unclear whether the cable co. has to honor the contract anyway since they are not the original cable co. that the contract was with. Several other cable companies took over and then I guess were bought out prior to the current cable co. taking over.


    We have very little problem allowing the power company permission so long as the cable co. still honors the contract of "free cable services for life". We are concerned the cable co. will try to worm their way out of the contract since they've been trying to get out of it on/off over the last eight years or so. The last real estate lawyer we had didn't know about the "piggybacking law" and screwed up a different easement for us and this was in 2006. Now, we have trust issues with lawyers (no offense). The family also doesn't have the money to hire a lawyer for this issue.

  • Thu, Sep 24 2015 11:04 AM In reply to

    • DPH
      Consumer
    • Top 10 Contributor
    • Joined on Mon, Oct 8 2001
    • TX
    • Posts 7,875

    Re: Power Co. Wants to Move Existing Lines - I Don't Want To

    cm018:
    I was told by Comcast that there is a law

    Politely ask Comcast to produce a copy of the law.  They can tell you anything they want, but that doesn't mean that they have an accurate understanding of it.  Have you looked at the plat for your property to see if an easement is noted on your property?  If not, get down to the courthouse and check it out.  The plat of my property and neigborhood, shows the exact placement of easememts.  In my case, there is a fifteen foot easement across the rear of my property for local utilities.  All electrical, cable, natural gas, sewer, and telephone run behind my house and my neighbors.  There is both aerial and buried in this easement.  I own the property, but the utilities have the right to use it for their purposes.  Go check out your situation.

    cm018:
    Around 1990, the cable co. illegally installed cable on my property. The family owns part of a private road that runs along side our house and that is where all the utility lines are. The family got a contract from the cable co. that states we are to receive "free cable services for life."
       

    Sounds like you entered into a contract with the cable company to me, which might not rise to the level of illegal.  Does the cable company provide services to other customers from cable along the route that you provided?  Do all of the utilities provide services using this route? 

    cm018:
    If the power company places their lines underground, the family is worried what will happen with the cable co. contract.

    That issue seems to be seperate from your question regarding easement rights.  Is the cable company proposing to reroute their cable to another location or what?  Explain.

    cm018:
    We have very little problem allowing the power company permission so long as the cable co. still honors the contract of "free cable services for life".

    Then work a new deal with the cable company to continue to provide free service.  If I were the cable company it wouldn't take me too long to come to the conclusion that providng free cable service would be cheaper than a lawsuit.  If you go this route, have an attorney draw up the contract for you.

    Again, head on down to the courthouse and check out what type of easeent is recorded on your property.  If you don't understand it, make an appointment with a local real estate attorney and have them explain it to you.

     

     

     

    "Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience."  -  Mark Twain

     

  • Thu, Sep 24 2015 1:05 PM In reply to

    Re: Power Co. Wants to Move Existing Lines - I Don't Want To

    cm018:
    We have very little problem allowing the power company permission so long as the cable co. still honors the contract of "free cable services for life".

    Then the problem is not really with the electric easement at all. The problem is instead ensuring the cable company honors the contract. If the right to the free cable services in the contract is not contingent on the cable lines staying where they are (and of course I've not read the contract) then it doesn’t matter whether the cable company changes the lines to match the new underground electric company easement. It does appear to be the case that if the electric utility does underground lines that other utilities like cable TV/internet services may join that easement, and the permission that the utility is seeking from you may expressly provide for the additional utilities that will be incorporated. Dominion power has a fact sheet on its underground power program that explains this. 

    But none of that addresses your contract issue. You are entitled to the benefits your contract provides, assuming that Comcast is bound by that contract. And that is the key issue: whether through the various mergers and acquisitions that have taken place involving the assets of the cable company you contracted with the contractual obligations of that cable company were assumed by each owner in turn. That depends on the details of each merger and acquistion. One might argue, however, that as Comcast has honored the contract now for a number of years that is has by implication assumed the contract even if it was not required to do so as a result of the various mergers and acquisitions. 

    If the contract is not contingent on the cable lines staying put, then the electric easement issue doesn't impact the contract. Your only fear here seems to be that if the cable company moves its lines to take advantage of the underground utility placement that it might prompt the cable company to be more assertive about terminating the free service, claiming that its not bound by the contract. But really, the cable company could decide at any time to resort to that tactic regardless of whether the cable lines move. 

  • Thu, Sep 24 2015 1:41 PM In reply to

    Re: Power Co. Wants to Move Existing Lines - I Don't Want To

    cm018:
    Seeing as how the power company already has an easement for above ground lines, can [it] force me to grant [it] permission to bury the lines?

    No.

     

    cm018:
    [It] keep[s] throwing around the term "eminent domain" as if I'm prohibiting something.

    I don't understand what you're getting at with the last five words of this sentence.  In many (maybe most or all) states, local utility companies have a limited power of eminent domain.  I assuming what the power company personnel are saying is that, if you don't voluntarily give that which has been requested, the power company will or may exercise its power of eminent domain.  Presumably, the power company would prefer you do this voluntarily because it will be less expensive for all concerned.  Whether the company would be successful if it tried to use its eminent domain power is something about which you'd want to consult with a local attorney.

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