Coordinating With the Utilities


The first inkling you have that something is going on within your community is the orange spray paint. You ask the worker why there is spray paint throughout the community, and he tells you that the underground utilities are being marked in advance of digging that will take place. The digging will be done by a communications company as they install fiber optic cable throughout your community. You suddenly remember how they dug up your community years ago when cable TV was first introduced, and vow to protect your community from another such butchering of its landscape, walks and streets.
If you are a Board member or a homeowner witnessing the marking of existing utilities within your neighborhood, contact your Community Manager to be sure that he or she is aware of the work the utility company has planned. The Community Manager can take it from there by contacting the local municipality to find out what rights the utility company has as well as consulting the community’s governing documents to review the section on easements. Armed with this knowledge, the Community Manager can then contact the utility company and arrange a meeting with the local field representative.
The Community Manager’s purpose in such an undertaking is to work with the local utility company to assure as much input as possible in the planning stages of the project. You as manager have valuable knowledge that they don’t regarding your community’s landscaping and grading and basic physical plant. You will be able to help utility representatives find the best location from the community’s viewpoint for the various components of their installation. The same utility representatives will also want to know how likely your homeowners will be to sign up for their service. They may not realize that large utility boxes located in small front yards will only anger the homeowners and may cause them to choose not to subscribe to the service. Because they are eager to sell their service to your homeowners, they typically will understand that working with you will be to their advantage.
Once the project is planned, ask the utility company to give you a copy of their blueprints or a diagram for your files. This is helpful when the community is doing excavation for its own projects at a later date. As always, you must have all underground utilities (electric, cable, gas, oil, water, sewer, etc.) marked before doing any excavation or digging in your community. In some municipalities, this is a requirement under local ordinance or state statute.
The utility company will install the main system before individual homes can be hooked up. During the installation process, your job is to make sure the utility company and its subcontractors work neatly and quickly with as little disruption to the homeowners as possible. These workers must be required to clean up on a daily basis, so the homeowners don’t come home to dirt or mud on their walkways, yards, or streets. They must keep permanent landscape damage to a minimum and replace anything they destroy. They are fond of telling you that grass will grow back or that a tree was not damaged despite its appearance. Do not hesitate to follow up on damage, even if it is not fully revealed until several months later. In a recent case, several sections of cement sidewalk were cracked by a utility company and replaced in the fall. The new cement cracked during the winter, and was replaced by the utility company in the spring because of the Community Manager’s insistence.
The utility company will often mail publicity and run advertisements to interest the homeowners about the availability of any new services. This is the second stage in how the Board and the Manager can be pro-active to protect the community. If you remember when cable TV was first being installed, residents would subscribe one-by-one. The cable TV company would dig a narrow trench to hook up one house, only to return a week later when yet another neighbor decided to subscribe and dig a new trench. This increased the number of trenches, doubled the damage to the landscaping, and was multiplied again and again as each household hooked up to the new service. Often, service to more than one house can be combined in one trench.
To avoid one-by-one installations, a coordinated effort between the utility company, the Board members and the Community Manager is the practical way to go. The first step is to ask the Board if they will allow the utility company to provide information about their service to the homeowners through the Management Office. If they agree, have them state in the Minutes that the Board does not have an interest in promoting the utility company. An example of such wording would be, “In no way does the Board or the Management Company endorse the product, only the chance to coordinate the installation.” The next step is to secure the cooperation of the utility company. Ask them to allow a sign-up period for your community of perhaps 30 days, after which they can install service to those who have signed up. Ask them to drop off enough advertising brochures to the Management Office for the homeowners who request it. The third step is to notify the homeowners that they can now subscribe to the new service. Emphasize that the Board is involved in the installation process in order to coordinate the work and minimize the damage to the community. It is important to state that the Board does not endorse one utility company over another, and that it encourages the residents to compare the services offered by all utility companies. The Board’s interest is to coordinate the installation process for those who choose this new service. Although homeowners are not required to make their choice within the sign-up period, those that do will reduce the amount of damage to the community’s landscaping, walkways and streets.
After the waiting period is over, provide the list to the utility company so they can coordinate the installation of those who wish to subscribe.
By taking a pro-active approach to the presence of a large utility company working in your community, the Board and the Manager can influence the layout of the system and promote coordinated installation to homeowners – – with the favorable result of reducing intrusion and damage to the community.
Donna Cawthorne, CMCA®, AMS®, PCAM®
Community Manager
Mid-Atlantic Management Corporation
This article is provided by Associa.