More lights to go out on South Portland streets

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SOUTH PORTLAND — More streetlights in the city are slated to be eliminated in the second phase of a cost-saving plan that saw more than 100 lights decommissioned in 2009.

The Planning Department plans to pull the plug on 184 streetlights in the Loveitt’s Field, Meetinghouse Hill, Pleasantdale and Stanwood Park neighborhoods. The city estimates the savings from shutting off the lights will total more than $22,000 per year.

The department’s plan originally called for culling 202 streetlights in those neighborhoods. But it was criticized by the city’s Streetlight Committee, which found that the national standard for residential streets with a 25 mph speed limit is one light every 680 feet.

Taking into consideration that standard and the appeals filed by residents who wanted to save their streetlights, the committee granted reprieves for 18 lights.

“We’re not plunging the city into total darkness by any means,” said Pat Doucette, code enforcement officer and a member of the committee. “There are still plenty of streetlights left out there.”

Residents who live within 100 feet of a streetlight proposed for elimination were sent letters telling them about the city’s plans and outlining the process for appeal. In all, residents filed 179 appeals for 77 different lights.

Those appeals were reviewed by the committee. In some situations, when a light was on a sharp curve, for example, a marked streetlight was taken off the list.

While most appeals were denied, Planning Director Tex Haeuser said residents are more than welcome to speak at the Nov. 21 City Council meeting, when councilors will take up the streetlight elimination plan.

“(Electric) rates are going up  across the state,” Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis said. “We’re trying to stay ahead of it.”

Haeuser said streetlight elimination has been on the city’s agenda ever since the Code Enforcement Department and Planning Department were combined in 2005.

At that time, it became clear that the most expensive line item in the combined budget included streetlights and associated costs. This year, South Portland will spend $340,000 to illuminate city streets.

Central Main Power Co. owns the streetlights, and leases them to the city. Haueser and Doucette said the power company recently raised the rental fee for streetlights, which they said happens every year.

But Haeuser said it’s about more than just saving money.

“We’re trying to save energy and reduce light pollution at night,” Haeuser said. “There are many people who like to see stars at night, even in cities. When possible, there’s no reason they shouldn’t have it.”

If the plan is approved by the City Council, the city will notify CMP, which will have 400 days to take the lights down. If it doesn’t, billing for those lights will still stop, Haeuser said.

In 2009, the first year the city tackled streetlights, 107 were eliminated on arterial streets, resulting in annual savings of about $20,000. During the next phase, the Streetlight Committee will figure out which lights can be removed in the western part of the city.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.