South Portland council OKs removal of streetlights

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Despite fear of a crime increase and last-ditch appeals from several residents, City Councilors on Monday OK’d elimination of 184 streetlights in several neighborhoods.

The plan is the second phase on an effort to reduce light pollution and energy costs. Two years ago, the city eliminated 107 lights on major streets, including Broadway and Highland Avenue, saving the city about $20,000.

This time, the lights to be cut are in the Loveitt’s Field, Meetinghouse Hill, Pleasantdale and Stanwood Park neighborhoods. The plan is expected to save an additional $22,000 per year.

The plan was approved, but not without debate over whether the committee charged with devising the proposal held to a standard in deciding which lights to cut.

Pat Doucette of the Planning Department, who served on that committee, said the group ensured there was a streetlight at least every 680 feet, which she said was the standard distance for residential areas with a speed limit of 25 mph.

Rita Swidrosky of Florence Street, where two lights will be removed, appealed to the council to keep one of them. She said she measured, and there was 683 feet between the lights.

“The measurements could or could not be absolutely correct,” she told the council.

It’s not a huge increase in footage, she said, but it raised questions about whether the committee followed its standard. Doucette admitted that the measuring was eyeballed on a 1/500-scale map, and that no on-the-ground measurements were taken.

Ultimately, the council opted not to approve Swidrosky’s appeal, saying it would set a precedent for keeping lights that might only be one foot off the guideline.

“Putting this back in with this small a difference, which I think is arguable, could open up 15 more lights,” Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis said. “… I think the work’s been done. I’m not going to second-guess the committee any longer.”

Later, Councilor Tom Blake tried to kill the proposal entirely, saying that a reduction in street lighting would increase crime. He also questioned whether the effort would really reduce light pollution and criticized the composition of the Streetlight Committee, which included many city employees.

“I believe we’ve made a huge mistake,” he said. “We are sacrificing the safety of our community.”

But that idea didn’t have much traction with other councilors.

“You can probably see Las Vegas from Mars, let alone the moon, (because it’s so lit up),” Councilor Patti Smith said. “But there’s still crime in Las Vegas. It’s not just about being dark.”

The proposal was approved 6-1, with Blake dissenting.

In other business, City Manager Jim Gailey was given the OK to sign two contracts with, which would outsource the city’s crash report distribution. Under the deal, individuals and insurance companies could buy crash reports from the website for $10, which would be paid to the city. The second contract allows to sell the crash information to third parties. The city would receive half the money negotiated in that way.

The plan originally called for a $10.50 fee, with the additional 50 cents earmarked for the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, but the council spiked that provision, deciding it was unfair to make people donate money to an interest group in order to get a crash report.

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