When your OSP pathways cross public or private properties, right-of-way permission gets tricky. That's why many designers are hiring a right-of-way specialist.


There may be no more challenging obligation for a designer than securing a legal right-of-way for the passage of a proposed outside plant (OSP) system. Many campus designs are confined to a single property owner, but as you expand your services to connect those buildings that may not be within the property, you may find your OSP pathways traversing other public or private properties or easements. By keeping in mind that permission must come from the owners of these other properties in the form of legal agreements, surveys, and usually monetary compensation, many designers choose to commission professionals who specialize in these matters.

In this eighth installment of EC&M's 12-part look at the Second Edition of BICSI's Customer-Owned Outside Plant Manual, we discuss this very important first step in taking your OSP infrastructure off campus. This overview will help guide you through the necessary and fundamental considerations for securing rights-of-way, permits, and easements.

Bridging the gap.

Gaps between properties that must be served with proposed outside plant pathways might take you through properties owned by cities, counties, states, federal agencies, the Department of Transportation (DOT), railroads, utilities, or private property owners. When dealing with these various owners, there are many different requirements you must consider. For instance, you must independently coordinate and secure legal documentation from each owner or public agency.

Along with fees and forms to record, most public agencies require permitting and have specified procedures to follow. You must also be aware of design procedures and construction methods contained in these agreements to ensure you adhere to them.

Bridging the gap between properties also means you should know exactly where alternative pathways are located to serve the buildings in your design. Sometimes it's hard to obtain rights-of-way or agreements, preventing you from using your first choice of pathways. It only takes one small gap in the pathway to make it an unusable route, so many times you'll have to select an alternate route.

Public right-of-way (land owned by government agencies) is usually more difficult to obtain, especially if you're not a franchised utility provider. These pathways are generally reserved for power, water, sewer, telephone, cable television, and gas lines.

The procedures of dealing with railroad right-of-way (land owned by railroad companies) typically mirror those of public rights-of-way. However, when dealing with railroad owners, you'll frequently have to include additional limitations and restrictions in the design of crossing railways.

These special permissions and permits can be costly and time consuming. You should avoid any route that takes your OSP across or parallel to railroads, even if it isn't the most economical option.

Private right-of-way typically requires you to secure easement or land purchase agreements from individual owners, corporations, or companies, so you'll need to secure proper legal notarization and recording. This should be a last resort, though, because many times the most difficult property or pathway to get can come from private rights-of-way.

The right way to get right-of-way.

The negotiation and purchase of private right-of-way can get complicated. An entire industry is devoted to supplying professionals qualified in obtaining right-of-way. Certification of these professionals is common and most respected. The International Right-of-Way Association (IRWA) ensures those who represent themselves as right-of-way agents meet stringent qualification guidelines. One of the first steps in securing right-of-way for your next project may be to commission one of these professional right-of-way agents.

You'll generally have to secure approval to use public right-of-way through a permitting process that is known as easement procurement. Permitting procedures among government agencies must be investigated well in advance of any proposed route selection. The option of using public over private right-of-way should be made as soon as possible.

Don't let restrictions confine you.

Most every right-of-way use agreement will include some type of restriction. These can include the property owner's right to use the space for activities like farming or equipment and vehicle storage or otherwise use it under the specified restrictions. As an OSP designer, you must carefully consider these restrictions and understand how they will affect your future expansion, maintenance, and accessibility needs.

Always secure the right-of-ingress and egress to access your outside plant, and be sure it isn't included within your restrictions.

The devil is in the details.

There are numerous details to keep track of during the acquisition of right-of-way, such as knowing the proper methods of describing property. Accurate and legally acceptable methods of describing property in use today include the following:

  • Rectangular grid system.

  • State coordinate system.

  • Metes and bounds description.

  • Subdivision plat and description.

  • Centerline description.

  • Point description.

  • Reference description.

Another time-consuming and necessary process involves researching the chain of title on a piece of property. As noted earlier, careful and accurate information is critical and should be left to professionals qualified in securing this type of information.

Other areas of concern include restrictions, covenants, and conditions that may exist on a piece of property, which may limit your activities. Sometimes these items can be lifted through a request process and re-recorded with the proper agencies. However, most of the time you must adhere to these special requirements and find ways to work around them during your design and maintenance stages.

Liens and encumbrances can also stop the design process dead in its tracks. It's important for you to make sure all liens and encumbrances are lifted or the rights you secure from the property owner may not be valid.

Closing the deal.

Attorneys, right-of-way professionals, surveyors, and licensed real estate agents are all important resources you should rely on when securing the rights to place your OSP on private or public rights-of-way. You should be prepared to use these valuable resources whenever you undertake a new project. As a designer, it's important that you're familiar with the necessary steps it takes to properly secure the right-of-way for your next project.

Next month we'll examine design documentation — an important set of deliverables for the success of any OSP project that include surveys, schematic designs, and work prints. As an OSP designer, you must be familiar with the necessary requirements of building these critical documents.

Hite is special projects engineer-OSP for CT Communications, Inc., Concord, N.C.

The material for this article was excerpted with permission from BICSI's Customer-Owned Outside Plant Design Manual, Second Edition.