Ocean County Commissioner Director Joseph H. Vicari’s ongoing effort to address dangerously low-hanging utility wires and crooked utility poles took a giant step forward after his meeting with officials from the state Board of Public Utilities this week.
Vicari addressed his call for a public 800 hotline, which residents and government agencies can use to quickly report low wires and bent telephone poles.
BPU officials say they already operate two hotlines, one for strictly cable television complaints and a second for all other utilities.
Either line will accept complaints about exterior cables and utility poles, BPU officials said.
The call with BPU staff was the predecessor of a virtual meeting between Vicari and BPU President Christine Guhl-Sadovy slated for next month.
“I was very pleased with the response from the Board of Public Utilities,” Vicari said following the 30-minute session, which also featured representatives from the county’s professional staff. “We want to work together with the BPU to solve this potentially dangerous problem.”
Vicari said he has personally witnessed low-hanging utility cables throughout the county.
“Some are so low that they pose a threat to motorists, bicyclists and even pedestrians,” he said.
He cited an incident in Lakewood Township earlier this year where a truck became entangled in low-hanging telecommunications cables and ripped the wires off of several nearby poles.
Vicari said his efforts to address the problem directly with utility companies such as Comcast and Verizon have met with little success.
“This is a major health and safety issue, but one company always blames the other and claims it’s not their wires,” he said. “I can never get a straight answer.”
The BPU officials said they will directly contact the offending utilities if a complaint is forwarded to their 800 number.
While calls to the BPU will be acted on, Vicari stressed that anyone who suspects live electrical wires are down should immediately call 911.
Vicari also used Thursday’s meeting to reiterate his call for utilities to inspect their poles at least twice a year.
He first made that request with BPU Executive Director Bob Brabston during a meeting last April.
BPU officials said they currently lack the legal authority to force telecommunication companies to complete such inspections. However, the board is working with state lawmakers to formulate legislation that would increase the BPU’s authority over cable television providers.
“These cable companies use our county roads for their poles and cables,” Vicari said. “They are making a decent profit and need to give some back. They need to maintain their infrastructure.”
Vicari, a former principal and schools superintendent, recalled a dangerously leaning pole in Brick Township that was low enough to pose a danger to school buses.
“It was incredibly difficult to force the utility to respond and fix the pole,” he said. “I had to work with the mayor’s office to finally get a response.
Vicari and BPU officials encouraged the public to report a problem with a pole or low-hanging cable by contacting the Board’s 800 number 1(800) 624-0241 for all utilities or 1(800) 624-0331 for cable television complaints.
If a resident is not sure of the type of wire or pole, they may call either number.