Banner brouhaha may be flagging

The great banner flap of 2012 may be over, three months into 2013. The reason is that a group of city managers from around Colorado sat down with officials from Xcel Energy in a series of weekly meetings and reached a solution to a problem that had created hard feelings throughout the state just a few months previously.

Amazingly, they accomplished this without litigation or political histrionics.

The Daily Sentinel ran an article about the banner dispute last October. It told how Xcel Energy had sent letters to the 120 cities and towns in the state where Xcel operates under franchise agreements with the municipalities. The letter basically ordered the cities and towns to stop using Xcel Energy streetlight poles to hang banners, Christmas lights, flags or any other items. The cities and towns were allowed to continue using the light poles through the end of 2012, but they were banned from using them at the beginning of this year.

The ban was required because of concerns about public safety and liability, Xcel officials said in public statements, including an op-ed column in this newspaper.

Not surprisingly, officials in cities and towns that had been using the Xcel poles to display all manner of items “for forever and a day” — as Sam Mamet of the Colorado Municipal League put it — were less than thrilled with the new policy.

Many expressed their frustration to the news media and to Xcel. “But nobody offered any solutions,” said Rob Osborn, director of community relations for Xcel.

Then a group of city managers from different communities contacted the utility and proposed a working group, made up of the city managers and representatives of Xcel, that would meet regularly to try to hammer out a solution.

The group met for several months and developed a plan similar to what Xcel had been proposing before it sent out the controversial letter last year, Osborn said. It calls for municipalities to make a formal application to Xcel to use specific utility poles for banners, flags or holiday lights. The utility company will then inspect the poles to be used to ensure they can handle the load.

Additionally, Xcel has promised to inspect all of its streetlight poles throughout the state by the end of 2014. And it has asked the pole manufacturers to provide Xcel with engineering data to be sure the poles can handle additional loads put on them.

Some 32 communities, including Grand Junction, have already applied for banner approval under the terms of the new agreement, and 17 of those have been completed. The others are expected to be approved before long.

What a way to deal with a controversy: People from both sides sit down to discuss the problems in a rational manner and develop a process for dealing with issues both sides have.

Such a common-sense effort shouldn’t merit special mention, but in today’s über-confrontational atmosphere, it does.


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