“It’s a dangerous job. We are still trying to work it hot,” said James Rhinehart, superintendent of Waynesville’s electric department.
The town doesn’t shut off electricity running through wires while crews work, and the typical utility pole has about 7,200 volts of electricity coursing through its lines.
But it’s a just a routine assignment for power crews, who are constantly replacing aging poles.
Each year, Waynesville’s electric department works during the fair weather days to replace a small portion of its about 1,300 power line poles. The goal is 90 a year, ensuring that each is replaced about every 15 years or so. The lifespan of the poles is about 20 years.
The cost of just the wooden pole is at least $125. Last fiscal year, the town paid $21,600 for power line poles, not including the accessories like the wooden cross arms and metal bits that hold the many wires in place. The total cost could run hundreds of dollars more depending on the height of the pole, how much wear and tear there is and how many utilities are housed on it.
“It is pretty expensive, but that is the way we maintain our poles,” said Rhinehart. The cost of utility work is covered by the electric bills of town customers.
The power poles around town don’t just hold up wires for town electricity. AT&T has phone lines up there. Progress Energy has its own power lines mounted on the poles en route to its own service territories. Even though some of the power poles are not even owned by the town, the town is usually stuck maintaining them as well in order to ensure the flow of power to town customers.
“Somebody knocks down a pole; we end up out there fixing it,” said Fred Baker, head of Waynesville’s Public Works Department.
The cost of any repairs or maintenance would then be billed to the pole’s owner, such as AT&T for example.
Recently, in addition to replacing the poles, Waynesville employees have worked on moving its poles back off the sidewalks to make more room for passersby after receiving some complaints about sidewalks blocked by poles in the middle of them, an issue for those using wheelchairs or strollers, in particular in Hazelwood and along South Main Street.