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Council debates handling of LED light complaints

City staff unable to back-up claims of "significant" savings

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

It is the voice of one, but how many more remain silent?

It was the question that councillors were asking themselves at their most recent meeting as they debated the concerns brought forward by a resident regarding the new and improved LED street lighting system.

Resident Roxanne Miller brought forward her concerns to the community services committee that the new lights outside her home were disrupting her sleep. As an aboriginal woman, she told councillors she was also worried for the impact on the plant and animal life in the city who also rely on darkness for their natural sleep cycles. At the committee level, the item was referred back to staff to deal with Miller directly.

However, moving forward, Councillor Amy McQuaid-England suggested that staff should prepare reports on these complaints in order for them to be more open and perhaps encourage others who may have issues to come forward and seek a solution. The suggestion was seconded by Councillor Gail Bates.

“I appreciate that this is only one resident’s concerns with street lighting,” McQuaid-England said. “However, she was a member of the aboriginal community and she was speaking about some issues that were affecting her and also I’ve heard from other individuals who are having issues with LED street lighting.”

According to Ron Diskey, the commissioner of community services, the city has received nine complaints regarding the new lights, some of them referring to lights that were either not working properly or not turned on.

The motion was eventually turned down by the rest of council, some of which felt it would be a waste of time to make reports on these complaints.

“We’re just adding work to our staff here,” said Councillor Bob Chapman, noting that if staff was required to do a report on each complaint, it would simply take too much time, whereas dealing with the issue directly ensures the matter is handled promptly.

According to Councillor John Aker, staff have told him much of the same.

“Staff were very clear, they don’t want to write frivolous reports, they want reports with substance,” he said. “With the number of wonderful things that are happening in our community, our staff is not overwhelmed, but stretched or extended….We can’t ask for reports for the sake of reports.”

Councillor McQuaid-England fired back noting that Councillor Aker’s words were “inappropriate” and that it is the job of staff to provide council with whatever reports they choose.

“I don’t think this will be the only complaint coming forward,” she said. “I think that we should be getting on top of this before it becomes a real issue.”

Upon further follow-up at Miller’s home, city staff noted that there was “minimal light trespass” on her property and claim that the amount of light reaching her home is less under the new system than the older lights. Despite that, the city is working to purchases a back shield to block more light from reaching her home.

“Our lighting calculations show that the back light shield will reduce the light level at the front of your home. The back shield has been ordered and will be installed by our contractor as soon as it arrives,” an email from Diskey to Miller states.

Where are the savings?

In a recently released report, city staff claim that “significant” cost savings have already been realized on a monthly basis due to the new lights. However, when The Oshawa Express inquired about the dollar figures, no amount could be provided to compare the 2017 spending to 2016.

“There is not an ‘apples to apples’ comparison as the project is not yet complete,” states Diskey in an emailed response, noting that it’s estimated the annual savings would be $779,000 and that moving forward, comparisons  to the previous lighting system would not be accurate as the new system includes development in the city’s north end.

The city did provide the number of maintenance requests with the new lights, which have dropped from 207 in 2016 to 53 on the new system.

The Express has also learned that additional lights, on top of the 14 approved by council (at a cost of $52,000) at their last meeting, were approved during the course of the installation.

According to Diskey, eight additional lights were required throughout the project at a total cost of $11,500, due to areas that were “underlit and not included in the original audit.” The costs were covered in the “existing operational maintenance accounts of these types of issues,” Diskey adds.