SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council Tuesday night approved a $1.6 million project to replace lights in the city.

Councilors also accepted a donation from Stonyfield Organics yogurt company to establish an educational area at Bug Light Park.

The city unanimously approved the project to retrofit about 1,700 streetlights and about 250 decorative and parking lot floodlights. Councilors also voted to add smart controls to the lights, allowing them to be dimmed and brightened.

According to Planning Director Tex Haeuser, it has been a goal of the city to win the right to place city-owned streetlights on poles owned by Central Maine Power Co. and convert them to modern LEDs. The city has been leasing lights from CMP at significant cost, and the fixtures are inefficient, Haeuser said in a memo to the council.

The conversion will produce significant energy savings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as cost savings from not leasing the lights from CMP – a savings of around $260,000 a year.

Councilor Kate Lewis said she was initially apprehensive about not doing it in a piecemeal fashion, but after realizing the savings, she fully supports the project.

By a vote of 4-3, councilors opted for soft-white lights rated at 2,700 Kelvin, instead of 3,000 Kelvin, based on a recommendation by the American Medical Association to use “warmer” lights that emit less short-wave blue light.

Mayor Linda Cohen and Councilors Maxine Beecher and Claude Morgan opposed the decision because it would result in the conversion being delayed a few weeks. They also noted that the AMA in one report recommended using lights rated up to 3,000k.

The city budget includes partial year lease payments of almost $100,500. The city provided $200,000 upfront towards the project in the current budget, which means it would have to lease-finance between $1.5 million and $1.6 million.

Leasing will require annual payments of $190,000 to $207,000. City officials anticipate the project will start this fall and be completed by the end of the year.

Bug Light Park

The $5,000 grant from Stonyfield will launch a pilot natural landscaping program called STONYfields the company hopes will go nationwide.

The initiative advocates removing toxins from where children play.

At Bug Light Park, which is used frequently in the spring and summer, the grounds are challenged by the salt air and compacted soil, with only natural irrigation available, city Sustainability Director Julie Rosenbach said.

Rosenbach said with the city’s adoption of a pesticide ordinance, there is more emphasis on education and outreach about what products and practices to use for natural lawn landscaping care.

At Bug Light Park, the money will be used to develop a natural turf demonstration and educational area. The suggested area for this program is about 1 acre inside the park along Madison Street.

Londonderry, New Hampshire-based Stonyfield is embarking on a three year, half-million dollar initiative to work with 35 communities across the country to convert outdoor playing fields and parks to organic landscaping practices.

Councilor Eben Rose said the grant reflects the advantage of the city being bold in action and being one of the first cities to enact a pesticide ordinance. As a result, he said, the city gets recognition from both public and private entities.

Councilor Kate Lewis said it is a “no-brainer” for the city to be a national leader on this issue and she hopes it will encourage other municipalities and cities to adopt similar restrictions on traditional pesticides.

Read the story at The Forecaster.