Kennebunk voters approved a conversion to LED of more than 800 streetlights in town, but the select board later learned the town doesn’t own the existing lights, so they plan to meet with Kennebunk Light and Power District officials to work out a resolution. Dan King photo

KENNEBUNK – Voters in the July 14, 2020, municipal election approved a bond for new LED streetlights – part of a package that also included street work, an ambulance, a couple of police cruisers and other items. The premise on the streetlight conversion was to reduce Kennebunk’s carbon footprint and lower operating costs.

The town had planned to replace the lights in the Kennebunk Light and Power District first, more than 800 in all, and at some later juncture, move on to those where Central Maine Power is the utility. The town had earmarked $400,000 of the $1.3 million bond for the streetlight project.

As it turns out however, the town does not own the KLPD streetlights, which is appearing to complicate the issue. Select board members, though, say that shouldn’t mean the project cannot move forward.

In November 1951, the Maine Legislature created the Kennebunk Light and Power District from the existing Kennebunk Streetlight Department and the town transferred all of those assets to the new district, select board vice chair Wayne Berry said at the Feb. 9 board meeting.

“I know we’d all like to go forward,” with the project, said Berry. He said KLPD is currently replacing lights with LED lights as the existing lights malfunction.

Board member Shiloh Schulte said he strongly supports the project, and said he wished the board had known about the ownership sooner.

“It very unfortunate we put the (Energy Efficiency Committee) to all this work, predicated on a misunderstanding embedded in a 1994 streetlight policy,” said board chair Blake Baldwin. “At time it was thought streetlights were owned by the town, and that turned out to be false. This is an unfortunate happenstance over a period of time, 26 years in the making. We were led to believe something that was not true. There are things we discover on almost a daily basis. The town is 200 years old and there’s a lot of funkiness to figure out.”

Blake said it is his understanding that if the town insists on using the lights it has chosen, KLPD would charge a fee.

The streetlight project began with the Energy Efficiency Committee, which works to find ways to reduce Kennebunk’s carbon footprint. The LED lights preferred by the committee, made by the Cree Lighting Co., are not the same brand as the ones being replaced by KLPD.

Energy Efficiency Committee chair Sharon Staz said until six month ago, the collaboration between all those involved worked well.

“My understanding is that the town is responsible for the safety of its residents, pedestrians and motorists,” said Staz. She said if that premise is followed, then the town ought to have some say in what type of light is installed on the pole. She noted there is a process with the Public Utilities Commission whereby that happens.

Board member Ed Karytko noted the town bought streetlights in the downtown and in West Kennebunk, “so it gets to be convoluted.”

Board member Peter Brewitt suggested the board seek a legal opinion on the warrant article approved by the voters, whether the town can issue a request for proposals for the lights, liability issues and other matters.

In the end, after an hour-long discussion, the board agreed to have Berry, Baldwin, Town Manager Michael Pardue and two members of the Energy Efficiency Committee meet with KLPD officials to try and work out a resolution.

Todd Shea, general manager for the power district, declined to comment on fees as outlined by the select board.  “The PUC rules state that even in a municipal acquisition of streetlight space, fixtures and contractors must be approved by the incumbent utility,” he said in a Feb. 11 email.

“KLPD’s position is that we own the streetlights, the town rents them, and KLPD provides all services in relation to those lights,” said Shea. “Should the town decide that they would like to own the lights, the PUC has processes in place to for the town to do just that, and those processes contain the requirement that a municipality taking over their streetlights provide for the maintenance and repair of those lights.”

He said KLPD has met with the town several times in the past year to discuss this matter. “KLPD’s position is KLPD’s position,” Shea said, adding in the Feb. 11 email that he was awaiting contact from the town on having a conversation.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: