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by Mark Reutter and Fern Shen6:36 pmFeb 7, 20230

Scott administration releases conduit agreement reached with BGE

As we’ve already reported, the utility somewhat sweetened the deal – but they still get final say in where the money goes, potentially forsaking poor city neighborhoods for wealthy ones

Above: A new conduit line being installed on Greenmount Avenue in 2019. (Commercial Utilities LLC)

A day after the City Council formed an investigative committee to review the deal that the Scott administration is negotiating with BGE over management of the city’s underground conduits, Mayor Brandon Scott released what he describes as “the next iteration” of the agreement.

The fine print closely follows the information reported by The Brew last Thursday – a deal sweetened by $14 million in return for the end of all franchise fees paid to the city.

Baltimore’s conduit division will have more say in suggesting where BGE spends the $134 million the company pledges to invest on the 700-mile system, which carries electric and telecommunication cables under city streets, over the next four years.

But BGE will still have the final say as to where the money goes.

After saying that the company will “consider in good faith” the city’s capital recommendations, paragraph 8 of the revised pact continues:

“Notwithstanding the foregoing, BGE shall determine in its sole discretion whether to pursue any City Capital Improvement Programs.”

Mayor Scott has not explained how placing future capital decisions in BGE’s hands could impact his plans to use the municipal conduit system to extend broadband service to poor Black neighborhoods.

BGE uses the conduits to distribute electricity to city homes and businesses and for street lighting.

As such, it has different priorities than expanding broadband services to underserved communities.

For example, BGE could decide to extend and enlarge conduit capacity in growing waterfront neighborhoods rather than invest in depopulated and low-revenue East and West Baltimore.

The revised agreement will allow BGE to make such investment decisions – based on bottom line profits – rather than the principles of social and racial “equity” that Scott says guide all of his administration’s policies.

Amendment to Conduit Settlement Agreement Between BGE and Baltimore by Fern Marie on Scribd

What the Scott administration calls “the next iteration” of BGE’s conduit occupancy agreement.

Criticism from Mosby

The mayor released the latest version after a secret January 13 agreement was disclosed by The Brew.

That agreement sparked criticism by two former mayors and others over its apparent contradiction with a charter amendment (Question K) approved overwhelmingly by voters last November that forbids the “sale, transfer or franchising” of city-owned conduits.

Scott has insisted that the agreement does not represent the “sale or transfer” of the conduit system, but has not responded to the question of whether it amounts to giving the electric company de-facto control of the network except to say that would not occur.

(His own conduit division disagrees, noting in an internal PowerPoint presentation that the January 13 draft agreement is “completely lopsided in BGE’s favor” and “has not won the support of DOT Conduit professionals.”)

City Council President Nick Mosby was critical of Scott in an email sent yesterday to citizens that referenced the charter vote .

“It is clear that the administration is set to disregard the clear directive from our voters,” Mosby wrote. “We cannot allow a for-profit company to make unilateral decisions on our public infrastructure.”

At last night’s meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to form the investigative committee. The panel, which has subpoena power, is composed of Mosby’s closest Council allies.

Eric Costello will serve as chair with Sharon Green Middleton, Robert Stokes, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer and Danielle McCray.

Mosby urged residents to attend the first committee meeting scheduled at 5 p.m. on Thursday.

Questions from Crown Castle

Among those eager to learn more about the BGE agreement is one of the companies that shares space in the conduits, Crown Castle.

Asked by The Brew to comment on the impact of the proposal on its operations, a representative of the Houston-based communications infrastructure company said he was unable to do so.

Any changes must “allow for the continued improvement and maintenance of Crown Castle’s communications network in Baltimore”  – Company representative.

“We are unable to meaningfully assess the proposed agreement’s impacts at this time and have reached out to the city for more information on how the proposal will affect industry partners,” the company said in a statement prepared by its local representative, Rick Abbruzzese.

“It will be critically important to ensure any changes that result from the agreement, if adopted, will allow for the continued improvement and maintenance of Crown Castle’s communications network in Baltimore,” the statement continued.

Crown Castle and other non-BGE users – such as Verizon, Comcast, Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland and the National Aquarium – will continue to pay a $2.20-per-foot franchise fee to the city.

“We look forward to learning more about the agreement at the City Council’s oversight hearing on Thursday,” Crown Castle concluded.

— To reach a reporter editors@baltimorebrew.com

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