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Lights out in Tamworth? Selectmen say cutting streetlights can save money and improve safety


November 12, 2009
TAMWORTH — Selectmen are considering reducing the number of unnecessary streetlights in order to save money, improve safety, and help the environment.

During their meeting last week, selectmen discussed the Tamworth Volunteer Energy Commission's proposed plan to cut the number of streetlights from 83 to 38. By making the cut, selectmen estimate the town would save about $7,796 annually.

The committee's report makes the following proposal: South Tamworth would have 13 of 17 lights removed, Chocorua would have 12 out of 23 lights removed, Tamworth Village would have 14 of 27 lights removed and Whittier would have five of seven lights removed. One light in an unspecified location would also be removed. (Chocorua Village will get new energy efficient lighting though another project.)

Six or seven of the lights to be removed aren't even functioning but the town is being charged for the energy they use anyway, said Selectman Willie Farnum. Each streetlight costs an average of $15 per month to light.

"We're paying, but we're not getting anything for it," said Farnum.

Although it sounds counter intuitive, turning off the lights could actually make the town safer, said Farnum. For him, streetlights make it harder to see people walking on the side of the road. When it's raining, the streetlight's reflection on the road makes seeing pedestrians even harder. Plus, streetlights give walkers a false sense of security and make them less likely to carry a flashlight, said Farnum.

"I don't know if streetlights are all that great of a safety feature," he said.

Selectmen and residents in attendance agreed that lights located at intersections need to be kept for safety reasons.

"The intersections are one place it's really important to have lighting," said Selectman John Roberts.

Energy Commission member Peg Custer said safety was her primary concern but she's also concerned about reducing light pollution and the town's energy consumption. The town uses 3,677 kilowatt hours on street lighting per month.

"We're passing along to our children a lot of carbon footprint," said Custer. "We have a responsibility there."

Over half the lights were installed between 1947 and 1972. Soon it will become impossible to get new bulbs for the outdated lamps, selectmen said. It's unclear if the town would be charged for having the lights removed.

Whether the issue of light removal goes to a town vote has not yet been decided, said Selectmen who tabled the discussion until Dec. 17. Only a handful of residents were in attendance at last week's meeting. Robert's said the town might get resident's attention when they start shutting the lights off. The board could turn the lights back on if people want them, he said.

"Some people won't feel safe unless they look out and see a streetlight," said Roberts.

The report provides cost estimates for four types of streetlights: incandescent, mercury, sodium, and metal halide. Each type has a different cost to operate. Incandescent lights are the cheapest and each light cost $12.21 per month. Sodium lights are the most expensive and each light costs $29.17 per month. The town has 47 incandescent lights and eight sodium lights.

Mercury lights are the second cheapest. Each of the town's 24 mercury light costs $15.65 per month. Metal halide is the second most expensive and the town's only metal halide light costs $22.56 per month. There are three unspecified lights that cost $17.60 to operate.

Many of the lights to be removed are on Route 113, Route 16, and Route 25. Resident David Haskell asked selectmen if they have the authority to remove lights on Route 25 and Route 113 or would they have to go through the state. Farnum replied the board would look into it.

In other selectmen's news:

Selectmen said they would revisit the employee firearms policy at their next meeting on Nov. 19. Selectmen forbade employees including volunteer firefighters from carrying guns while on town time or on town property. Critics charge the selectmen of illegally restricting the employee's gun rights.

Selectmen decided to spend $242,000 from the town's capital reserve fund for the purchase of a new fire truck.

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