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North Hempstead Town to stop helping civic groups hang event banners

A banner for Port Fest hangs from utility

A banner for Port Fest hangs from utility poles over Main Street in Port Washington Monday, May 11, 2015. Credit: Barry Sloan

The Town of North Hempstead is hanging up a tradition.

Town officials, citing concerns over liability costs, will no longer help civic groups stretch banners across roads from one utility pole to another. The ubiquitous banners above Long Island roads around summertime announce a season of religious feasts, carnivals and 5K runs.

The town board is to vote on legislation ending its banner hanging at its meeting Tuesday.

PSEG Long Island officials recently asked the town to indemnify the utility against any risk related to the banners, Town Attorney Elizabeth Botwin said Monday. The town had required nonprofits to obtain a permit from the highway department as well as approval from the utility company to hang banners.

But if the town had agreed to indemnify the utility company, North Hempstead could be liable for millions of dollars if an incident occurred, Botwin said.

"It is not reasonable to ask the town's taxpayers to indemnify the utility company if anything should go wrong with the utility poles because of the banners," Botwin said.

The legislation is key because the town "can't take on that financial risk," Botwin said. "If something happened, we would have to pay . . . a pole could fall down; they would argue it was because of the banner."

Other Long Island municipalities do not help or allow outside groups to install banners on utility poles.

In Huntington, the highway department hangs banners for organizations, but the groups must have approvals from the utility and town highway department, spokesman A.J. Carter said. The groups also provide the town with a "hold harmless agreement" absorbing liability, along with a certificate of insurance.

Oyster Bay "occasionally" and as a "courtesy" installs banners for groups as long as there is permission from the government that controls the road where the banner will be put up, town spokeswoman Marta Kane said in an email. The town requires the group to provide proof of insurance to the utility.

North Hempstead officials said about 20 organizations have asked the town to hang banners in recent years.

Groups will still be able to install banners, but would have to apply for a permit, obtain insurance and have a contractor sign an agreement indemnifying PSEG's ratepayers, utility spokeswoman Elizabeth Flagler said.

Among the groups or events that have received help from North Hempstead: PortFest, a festival scheduled for this weekend and advertised on a banner across Port Washington's Main Street; the Helen Keller National Center; the North Shore Animal League America; and the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society.

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