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Townships concerned over bill usurping right of way control

GRAND BLANC TWP. — Senate Bill 637 has local officials concerned over the potential for state legislators to take away the right of townships to control what types of utilities or uses are place in the Right of Way—that section of property they now control between the road and private property.

If the bill passes, according to Township Supervisor Scott Bennett, wireless infrastructure and service providers could have free rein to place large refrigerator sized boxes on utility poles without any local oversight on placement or the number of them in an area, nor any consideration whatsoever for aesthetics.

The bill is also of concern to the Michigan Townships Association, who advocate for townships in the legislature, and said in a recent newsletter: The bill would allow small cell wireless facilities to be installed on poles without a township board’s approval. Small cell wireless facilities are lower-powered antennas and nodes typically installed on street lights and power and traffic light poles as telecommunication and wireless companies expand their infrastructure to meet increasing demand.

The MTA continues: “SB 637 is meant to increase access to mobile services, but oversteps local authority by classifying such facilities as a permitted use not subject to zoning review approval. The only exception is in single-family residential areas. Townships and other local units would be limited to only administering and regulating the right-of-way in a neutral way. The bill also limits how much could be charged for permit fees and when fees can be charged. MTA opposes the bill and is working with lawmakers on changes.”

Bennett and other are urging residents to contact their state representative and ask for a no vote on the bill and the MTA is also concerned about House Bill 5098, sponsored by Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton), which would place written notice deadlines on townships that require a utility or cable company to move its facilities from the public right-of-way, as well as require them to waive permit and inspection fees.

Townships and other municipalities would be required to give a one-year written notice if they requested or required that an entity relocate their facilities for any reason, except for an act of God or an emergency. A 30-day notice would still be required if the local unit learned of the project or received funding less than one year before the starting date. Local units could still require entities to get a permit for relocating their facilities, but could not charge a fee. They also could not require an entity to conduct a study or survey. While the bill has been portrayed as a way to expand broadband access in the state, there is nothing requiring companies to use savings from waived fees or studies to expand broadband in unserved or underserved areas.

Bennett said that like Grand Blanc Township, many local Planning Commissions spend a lot of time planning how things look and feels it is unfair for the communication industry to usurp local government control over the appearance of their right of ways.

Residents have already complained to him of ugly, abandoned utility boxes, specifically such as those located at the corner of Holly and Baldwin Roads. These are supposedly abandoned land-line telephone control boxes.

Utilities such as would be allowed in the right of way are “ghastly looking” Bennett said and he said they would have no limit as to the number allowed on a pole. He added Genesee County Road Commission is also opposed to it.

Township attorney David Lattie said as of now Consumer’s Energy is the main utility which uses the right of way, under a 30-year franchise agreement which includes fees paid to the township.

Lattie said if the bill passes it would essentially rob the municipality of their domain and control over the right of way, as well as the ability to generate fees. He agreed to look into the provider agreement as it relates to state statue and report back to the board.

This article originally ran on

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