Monday, March 10, 2014
By Leslie Bridgers email@example.com
WINDHAM — A plan to reduce the town’s energy dependence by taking down more than 100 streetlights has drawn the ire of residents, who feel their removal would compromise the safety of their neighborhoods.
Green signs placed on 107 of the town’s 335 light posts, saying they were targeted for removal after Nov. 18, put residents on alert and prompted them to pack the Town Council chambers Monday night for an informational meeting about the project. The crowd overflowed into the hallway.
Although the meeting wasn’t meant to be a public hearing, people expressed concern that taking down the lights would affect the protection of their homes from burglars and the safety of children walking to bus stops.
They criticized the town for not notifying them before the green signs were put up and called out town councilors for not attending Monday’s meeting. Councilor Tommy Gleason was the only one there.
The proposal is part of a larger plan to improve the town’s energy efficiency – the charge of the Energy Advisory Committee, which was formed in 2011 after the town received a $35,000 grant from Efficiency Maine to come up with a plan.
The committee’s work has included energy audits of municipal buildings, the replacement of lights in those buildings and the installation of solar panels at the East Windham Fire Station.
Assistant Town Planner Ben Smith said the committee wanted to review the town’s street lighting after noticing that the lights account for about 5 percent of the town’s energy use and 18 percent of its energy costs.
The Town Council in June adopted a new streetlight policy to allow the installation of streetlights only at intersections, in areas with pedestrian traffic and at dangerous spots in roadways.
The Energy Advisory Committee then identified streetlights that didn’t meet those criteria. Those are the ones that got the green signs. The committee also identified eights spots that should have lights but don’t.
If the plan is implemented, the town would save about $11,800. All of the town’s light posts and streetlights are rented from Central Maine Power Co.
Smith told residents at the meeting Monday night that he’s sure there “are very good cases to be made” for lights that have been flagged for removal but shouldn’t come down. He said the purpose of talking to residents about the proposal is to get feedback about those very situations.
“That’s the information that needs to come from folks in the neighborhood,” he said.
More than 60 people, including town officials and members of the Energy Advisory Committee, attended the meeting.
“I’m concerned about the people who aren’t here, who aren’t necessarily going to speak for their street,” said resident Anne Cornish.
Cornish said she cares about every streetlight in Windham. Personally, she fears losing the sense of community in her Evergreen Lane neighborhood, where people exercise in the early morning and walk their dogs after work, times when it’s dark out for at least part of the year.
“Without lights, I’m afraid that’s just not going to happen,” she said.
Jami Glicos, who lives at the intersection of Rocklinn and Otter drives, said people already blow through the stop sign near her house because it’s so dark. Twice, cars have ended up in her yard. “If the streetlight is not there, it’s only going to get worse,” she said.
Smith encouraged people at the meeting to write down their concerns and send them to town officials. He said the Town Council will probably take up the issue in December or January.
Asked if it’s possible the whole policy could be thrown out, he said, judging by the number of the people at the meeting, “I don’t think that’s off the table.”
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