Plans Outlined To Reduce Streetlights
By: Christopher Kazarian
In a town with 2,573 public street lights, Falmouth could see more than a third of them go dark with a proposal to temporarily eliminate 756 of them as part of cost-saving measures for this current fiscal year.
The savings are tied to September’s Special Town Meeting in which $11,750 was trimmed from the streetlight line item, but Assistant Town Manager Heather B. Harper told selectmen last night the reductions would more likely need to be in the neighborhood of $28,650 because the town is nearly halfway through the current fiscal year.
In assessing the town’s streetlight system, Ms. Harper said, a number of local officials have been involved in the discussion, including those from the Falmouth Police Department, the Falmouth Planning Department, Falmouth selectmen, the GIS department as well as representatives from NStar and Republic Electric, which is the town’s streetlight vendor.
She stressed that no lights would be turned off if it would compromise public safety.
Those on main thoroughfares would remain on, she said. Among others this includes Sippewissett Road, Central Avenue, Acapesket Road, Brick Kiln Road, Sandwich Road, Seacoast Shores Boulevard, Woods Hole Road, and all of the state roads in town.
In addition to the town’s inventory of streetlights, GIS Coordinator Robert Shea said there are 500 private lights in town. None of those would be impacted by the proposal set forth last night.
Selectman Carey M. Murphy asked what the appeals process would be for those who did not want streetlights in their neighborhoods turned off.
“If we want to achieve any kind of savings this year, there can’t be an appeals process,” Ms. Harper said.
Residents could still elect to privatize a streetlight, she said, which would cost between $300 and $500 for NStar to make the initial switch as well as a monthly fee for maintenance.
Selectman Brent V.W. Putnam, who has sat in on the planning process for this initiative, said town officials will need enough time to look at the impacts of this program to determine whether some lights should be turned back on for public safety reasons.
“Is purchasing [a light] the only option?” Mr. Murphy said.
“If the neighborhood can show it is a public safety issue,” Mr. Putnam said, then a light could be turned back on.
Mr. Murphy raised concerns that the public may not be accepting of this plan. He noted that one-third of Falmouth’s population is over the age of 65 and like having streetlights on for safety reasons.
Ms. Harper assured the board that the public would have a chance to weigh in on the issue in a public hearing that would be scheduled for next month.
She said, “the police department has been supportive of the process and don’t feel the reduction in streetlights will have an impact on public safety.”
In 1997, Falmouth purchased the streetlights from Commonwealth Electric Company. That move, Ms. Harper said, actually reduced the operating costs, noting that before, the town expended $255,000 for this line item, but now that amount is roughly $235,000.
The town pays, on average, $80 for each light, Ms. Harper said, as there are additional costs factored into this budget for flashing lights and floodlights throughout town.
The proposed changes would reduce the annual streetlight budget, she said, by more than $52,000.
Beyond what is being recommended, Ms. Harper said, the town needs to look at the 187 incandescent lights and 32 mercury vapor lights that cost more to operate than the standard sodium vapor lights, which constitute the majority in town.
The lights to be turned off in January, Ms. Harper said, would be only sodium vapor ones.
Mr. Putnam also recommended that town officials not simply look at streetlights, but how its buildings are lit at night. “Some of the schools are lit up like Christmas trees,” he said, noting that putting light sensors in and around buildings would be a good idea.
He also said the town should look at the bigger picture and consider whether it would be wise to have a dark sky bylaw to ensure that lights are doing only what they are intended to do. “We should light only the things we need to be illuminated,” he said.
Following the debate, selectmen voted unanimously to adopt the criteria for reducing its streetlight inventory. Ms. Harper said the next process will be to make public the recommended changes before holding a hearing on the issue next month before any action would be taken.
“We are on our way to another controversial topic,” Chairman of the Falmouth Board of Selectmen Mary (Pat) Flynn laughed, summing up what now lays ahead of her board.
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