A broken streetlight on Palmer Avenue leaves a Portland neighborhood in the dark. On Wednesday, the city and CMP agreed to fix broken lights served by underground connections while regulators consider broader contract issues. (Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer)

Portland streetlights that have been out for months will be repaired while the city and Central Maine Power attempt to resolve a dispute over responsibility for maintenance and repair of underground power lines. 

City and company officials agreed Wednesday to work together to fix malfunctioning lines that affect at least six city streetlights. 

“It is a significant health and safety issue for the city of Portland to have its streetlights on and functional,” Joel Moser, a Bernstein Shur attorney hired by the city, said at a conference involving the city, CMP at the Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday. 

While the two sides still don’t agree on who should pay to repair underground power lines, they are willing to cooperate to fix the problem in the immediate future. 

“This is a really important issue,” Moser said. “We would like to get it resolved as soon as humanly possible.” 

The Wednesday conference was called to discuss CMP’s request to amend its streetlight rate rules and make it clear that once municipalities own streetlights, they are responsible for fixing the underground conduits, duct lines and feeds that power the lights. 

Officials from Portland and at least three other cities oppose changing the rules, arguing that doing so contradicts a streetlight purchase agreement they have with CMP that makes the company responsible for dedicated streetlight conductors. 

The PUC’s decision in the case could affect more than 50 Maine communities that have bought or want to buy municipal streetlights from CMP and convert them to energy-efficient LED bulbs. 

While the two parties did not resolve the dispute, they did agree to fix the lights collaboratively. Central Maine Power also agreed not to bill Portland for the upcoming work. 

The parties don’t have a repair timetable, but intend to do the work soon. In May, the city sent CMP a list of 20 streetlights it said were out, but the company on Wednesday said only six lights are affected by bad underground wires. 

“We have already started discussing it,” CMP spokeswoman Catharine Hartnett said. “It is a matter of coordinating excavation and getting crews in the right place at the right place.” 

When lights fed by underground conduits have been out in the past, the city has closed the road and excavated the lines, while CMP has powered down the lines and fixed them, Public Works Director Chris Branch said at the conference Wednesday. 

“This is the way the process has run for years and years and years up until the time of this agreement,” Branch said. 

The city intends to continue that practice, but does not have the qualified employees to fix the lines and it would be a major expense for the city to employ or contract them. 

To date, CMP has not billed Portland for any repairs it has done to underground wires, representatives said at the Wednesday conference. 

The company wants to change the terms of its rules so it has a uniform understanding with towns and cities as more purchase and convert streetlights. 

“It is going to be an ongoing conversation,” said Hartnett, the company spokeswoman. “As we consider the underground service in Portland, we have to consider it statewide.” 

Comments are not available on this story.