By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — In 2008, Verizon told city officials they were going to start removing double utility poles that line several city streets.
At the time, a spokesman said the company had removed 186 such poles in the previous year, in response to complaints from residents and city officials who said the double poles are ugly, and that only 106 remained.
Today, there are more of the double poles than ever before — 245 to be exact, according to Verizon — and more are on the way. Most are overrun with wires and electrical equipment. Some are leaning and look like they are about to topple.
The poles are used to replace or reinforce old or deteriorated poles because, in most cases, it is cheaper than removing the old pole and replacing it with a new single one.
A recent tour of a South Main Street and several nearby roads revealed dozens of double poles, many of them new. Late last week, cews were spotted installing two new poles to add to the double pole situation.
Stephanie Lee, Verizon's governmental affairs liaison, said there are about 245 double poles in the city and 125 have been installed in the last year due to a power upgrade project by National Grid. The electric company uses Verizon's poles to provide power to homes and businesses.
Lee said Verizon has been talking to Mayor James Fiorentini and fire Chief Richard Borden recently about how to alleviate "the double pole situation in Haverhill." She said removing an old pole is a complicated and time-consuming process because lines that accommodate electricity, fire alarms, street lights and cable and phone service must all be taken down by different carriers before a pole can be removed.
"While we are committed to continuing to work together on reducing double poles in Haverhill, you may be aware that National Grid has plans to continue to upgrade the electrical system within the city, which will require the placement of many more additional poles over the next year," Lee said in an email to the City Council.
Council President Robert Scatamacchia, who has complained to Verizon and National Grid about double polls many times, said the possibility of more double poles when there should be fewer is unacceptable.
"It seems like double poling is the rule instead of the exception now, that it's being done as a regular business practice," Scatamacchia said.
He said it appears to him that the utility companies are too lazy to remove old poles when new ones are needed, so they simply leave the old one next to the new one in such cases.
After a double pole is installed, state law requires utility companies to remove the old one within 90 days, Scatamacchia said. But, he said, there is no penalty for violations, so the utilities ignore the rule.
Scatamacchia said he recently found 25 new double poles on Kingsbury Avenue and South Pleasant and South Elm streets. A recent tour of other streets in that part of in the city's Bradford section revealed dozens more, some in front of churches, schools and businesses on Route 125 and in Central Square.
Scatamacchia said Verizon sent the city a letter in 2007 that said the company would be removing existing double poles and using fewer of them in the future.
At the council's direction, Scatamacchia wrote to Verizon and National Grid last week, asking for their policy on double poles and why they have apparently forgotten about the 2007 letter. He said the city is also researching its legal options if the utility companies don't start removing double poles.
Scatamacchia said he used to scoff at the late City Councilor David Swartz and resident William Copeland for making a big issue about double poles when Scatamacchia was new to the council many years ago.
"Back then I didn't think it was a big deal," Scatamacchia said. "But I've been converted. They are ugly and these companies are disrespectful to the city's wishes and our residents. And it's always the same old story when we ask them about it. They promise they will correct the situation but they don't."