AP NEWS

A bright idea gets complaints in Black Rock

January 15, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — It may have seemed like a bright idea at the time, but the pricey installation of powerful new LED street lighting in the city’s picturesque Black Rock community has caused vision problems for residents and headaches for City Hall.

“They are quite bright,” said Scott Burns, ex-councilman-turned-president of the Black Rock neighborhood revitalization group, whose home is one of the residences affected by the more potent lamps. “There was a lot of pushback about how bright. ... ‘Bright enough to land an airplane.’ ‘Bright enough to be seen from Long Island.’”

Now what had been a $470,000 project will cost close to a half-a-million dollars by the time officials take steps to deal with the new light pollution.

This tale of illumination-gone-wrong began last year when the economic development and public facilities departments decided to move ahead with the emergency installation of around 110 new decorative light poles in the waterfront St. Mary’s-by-the-Sea neighborhood.

Installed over 20 years ago, several of the lights were missing or broken.

“More importantly, we’d been put on notice on several occasions that contact (with) the poles resulted in electrical shock and arcing,” said Economic Development Director Thomas Gill, one of a handful of top City Hall executives, including Mayor Joe Ganim, who call Black Rock home. “We had concerns about the possibility of somebody getting hurt.”

Gill said there were problems accessing the existing poles’ wiring, so repairing the equipment was not an option. County Electric was hired to do the new installation. The entire project took six months, running into early December. Gill said the parts and labor cost $470,000.

Burns recalled that the council had previously set aside some money in the budget. In fact, the five-year capital budget to borrow money for infrastructure work proposed spending $2 million total, half on citywide decorative street lights, half on wattage upgrades.

“I don’t know if there was a plan to replace all of them (in St. Mary’s-by-the-Sea) at once,” Burns added, noting $470,000 seemed “pretty steep.”

And it is getting steeper. Gill said the city will spend an estimated $20,000 to $25,000 more to buy and install special light shields and perhaps a dimmer to try and address neighbor’s complaints about brightness.

Gill admitted the new lights take some getting used to, but thought part of the problem was that the poles had been unactiviated for the six months they were being replaced. And, Gill said, the old lights over the years had become dirty, which affected their glow.

“A lot of people are pleased (with the brightness) from a safety perspective,” Gill said.

Burns acknowledged he has heard from people who walk and jog along St. Mary’s in the early morning who have said “it’s nice to have it well lit.”

However, one of the critics of the new lighting is Madeline Dennis, who operates the Black Rock in the Know Facebook page. In early December, Dennis wrote online, “I don’t know about you, but I hate the bright blue/white LED street lights.”

“It’s scientifically proven that they are harmful to human health and to wildlife, disrupting eyesight, sleep rhythms, bird migration and so much more,” Dennis continued.

City Councilman Peter Spain represents Black Rock. He said the new lamps actually violate state light pollution laws.

Spain said he had been pushing for replacement of the existing St. Mary’s lights since last April, but that area residents were never properly consulted by City Hall after the project became an emergency.

Spain said the city made the mistake of simply repeating “a poorly designed lighting scheme” from two decades ago with “the post-for-post replacement.”

Spain suggested that every other light pole be removed and reinstalled elsewhere in the city, such as downtown around the entertainment arena and near the Brewport restaurant.

“That would be good for economic development, and it would likely assist in bringing the new lights on St. Mary’s in compliance with state laws,” Spain said.