Charleston senator re-evaluating bill that regulates installation of large utility poles

Sen. Marlon Kimpson is reconsidering a bill that would have regulated the installation of utility poles and required more public input.

COLUMBIA — A Charleston senator is deciding if his bill regulating utility poles and other construction is necessary after a hearing last week with SCE&G revealed the problem may have solved itself.

Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Democrat, pre-filed the legislation in late 2014 that would prevent electric companies from installing large projects without notifying residents. It also would require such actions to get approval from city or county councils if more than two-thirds of the people in the affected areas were opposed to the changes.

The proposal came a few months after SCE&G installed massive utility poles in the Hampton Park area in 2014 with little warning to residents.

Since that project, which included the installation of steel poles ranging from 102 feet to 117 feet tall, the company has altered its approach to notify more residents and hold public meetings. The taller poles are expected to better withstand high winds from hurricanes.

SCE&G President of Retail Operations Keller Kissam said their previous policy in a situation like the one in Hampton Park only had them notify property owners who had granted the company an easement.

“We notified the property owners that were impacted, and that was sufficient from a legal standpoint, but perhaps not sufficient from a community standpoint,” Kissam said.

Kissam said the company now has widened the scope of residents it informs of projects to include the neighborhood impacted and holds public hearings to gather feedback, something he said they did in James Island last year.

“There’s nothing on the books that requires us to do it, but we feel first and foremost that we need to be good neighbors,” he said. “We need to exist in a symbiotic manner and be respectful of property rights.”

Kimpson said he has asked for a written copy of the policy and will determine if he needs to move forward with the bill, which was discussed during a Senate subcommittee meeting last week.

Hampton Park resident Kevin Eberle said he’s not sure the bill would have been helpful were it in place in 2014.

“That is a hollow obligation,” he said of the proposal. “All that says is to tell somebody what you’re going to do before you do it to them. It’s nice to have that, but it’s a pointless gesture.”

He added: “Of course it’s too late for us to do anything to protect our national registered historic district.”

Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.