Cable and phone lines will have to go underground or the companies that own them could lose the right to operate in the city of Beaufort under the terms of a proposed ordinance.
Council unanimously approved on first reading a requirement to remove low-voltage cables -- phone, TV and Internet -- from electric poles whenever SCE&G stops using them.
The electric company is nearing the end of a project of several years to install taller poles for high-voltage cables and put smaller lines underground where possible.
Electric lines often run near trees, which have to be trimmed periodically to reduce the chance of damage and fire.
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That trimming has sparked widespread complaints, however. Two summers ago, when SCE&G trimmed trees for safety reasons, a community uproar followed.
"Even though they do it in the right way, it still looks like butchering," Councilwoman Donnie Beer said Tuesday night.
The city created a trees board that has spent the past year or so identifying areas where lines could be placed underground.
SCE&G also is installing new central lines on poles that string the wires high above trees. Smaller cables branch off that to reach buildings, and SCE&G agreed in 2008 to place those underground where possible
Part of that agreement was for the cable companies to also go underground. The electric company agreed to work with the communications companies to place all cables underground where possible, but that has not happened and Mayor Billy Keyserling did not have a clear answer why it not.
Most of the poles are on private property. The electric company worked out agreements with property owners to keep poles up, and the smaller cable companies have various agreements with SCE&G to also use those poles.
Under the new ordinance, when SCE&G puts its cables underground, the cable companies would have to follow suit. If they didn't, the city could revoke or deny the companies' right to operate within the city, city manager Scott Dadson said.
The only communications company with a representative at the meeting was CenturyLink, which provides Internet, TV and phone service. He said his company preferred to go underground where it is economically feasible. He also pointed out problems in which his company is often called by contractors to construction sites after most of the work is done, making it more expensive to install underground cables because ground has to be dug up again.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.