Randolph flag project folds for lack of insurance
RANDOLPH — The plan in this, the smallest town in Maine, was simple: join neighboring municipalities in the summertime rite of celebrating the United States and honoring veterans by mounting American flags on utility poles on the town’s traffic corridors.
For about a year, Jim Kimball and the Randolph Fire Association have been raising money for the project and had gathered donations totaling about $1,000, just enough to pay for 20 flags and the mounting hardware.
And so the flags went up.
“It makes the town look better,” said Kimball, a captain in the Randolph Volunteer Fire Department and a member of the association, “and it shows we support the veterans. A lot of the veterans drive right through here.”
Randolph is just south of Chelsea, where the VA Maine Healthcare Systems campus at Togus is located.
But the plan derailed this month over one crucial detail: lack of sufficient liability insurance.
While the town of Randolph has insurance coverage through the Maine Municipal Association, it doesn’t meet the $5 million coverage threshold that utility companies such as Central Maine Power require.
Town officials would have to buy an insurance rider, costing about $500, for the additional coverage. No money has been budgeted for that.
The flags have now come down.
“Where we rent the poles,” Randolph Selectman Bob Overton said, “we thought they were ours.”
Many people think the utility poles belong to municipalities, CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice said. They generally belong either to an electric company or a telephone company.
In Randolph, the poles are owned by CMP and by FairPoint Communications. Time Warner/Charter rents virtually all of the poles on which its networks are attached, company spokesman Andrew Russell said, so it refers questions on attachments to the poles’ owners.
Rice said her company has a process in place to approve what it calls “municipal decorative temporary attachments,” which includes flags.
While the power company charges no fee, it does require, among other things, that applicants show proof of insurance with a minimum liability limit of $5 million.
“There’s no magic to the number,” Rice said. “This is the figure that we came up with. It protects us and it protects the towns.”
FairPoint has a pole attachment policy that mirrors CMP’s. “We do require the liability insurance,” spokeswoman Angelynne Beaudry said. “It’s a responsible business practice.”
Beyond company policy, Rice said state law forbids anyone from attaching anything to a utility pole without prior consent. Doing so is considered a civil offense and can result in fines of up to $100.
“The problem is that people attach things to utility poles … using nails, staples and screws,” she said. “Line workers need to work on poles from time to time. If they get a prick in their rubber gloves, that makes them useless and nonprotective. It could be lethal.”
Kimball said he can’t fathom why the cost would be so high to put flags on utility poles for only three months of the year.
“Not that I want to make a big deal about it, but I just don’t understand the $5 million coverage,” he said. Kimball has seen the effect of the flags in other cities and towns across the region, including those on the other side the Kennebec River. In 2012, American LegionSmith-Wiley Post 4 in Gardiner raised money to extend a line of flags from Farmingdale through Gardiner and along Brunswick Avenue. Robin Plourde, executive assistant to the Gardiner city manager, said the process wasn’t difficult, and CMP was easy to work with.
Rice estimated that of the 300 or so cities, towns, townships and unorganized territories that CMP serves, 70 to 80 have pole attachment agreements. She said she’s sure more towns than that have put up flags without permission.
Not every town with flags flying is violating CMP’s policy. On Water Street in Hallowell, for instance, flags are mounted on the light poles lining the east side of the street. “Those belong to the city,” said Dawna Myrick, Hallowell’s city treasurer. “The flags are our own and those are our poles.”
As it now stands, donation buckets remain at stores in Randolph. Even though Kimball says the 90-day season is about half over, if enough cash comes in, it would be donated to the town to pay for the insurance so the flags could go back up for the rest of the summer.
Another option is Randolph’s upcoming Town Meeting. Kimball said he plans to meet with Fire Chief Ron Cunningham and the head of the Randolph Fire Association to talk about whether they should ask to add an article to the warrant. Randolph’s Town Meeting is scheduled for July 27 and the warrant must be finalized two weeks before that.
“The insurance money, that’s not just a one-time thing,” he said. “That’s every year.”
( Source )