Selectman says he's still in dark on downtown street lamp project
Updated 8:07 pm, Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Additional information sought by the Board of Selectmen about a plan that would shut off decorative street lamps in downtown Fairfield at midnight still failed to shed enough light on the deal Wednesday to win support from Selectman James Walsh.
Walsh asked fellow selectmen Wednesday to postpone for a second time a vote to authorize First Selectman Michael Tetreau to enter into a grant and loan agreement to replace the 109 decorative fixtures with longer-burning, energy-saving LED fixtures. Tetreau and Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey agreed to postpone a vote until Feb. 1, although both indicated they would have been comfortable voting on the issue at their Wednesday meeting.
Part of the savings would be realized from shutting off the decorative lights -- not the standard street lights -- at midnight. Right now, the lamps are illuminated from dusk until dawn.
The contract would enable the town to receive a grant and no-interest loan to cover most costs of the $133,560 project to replace the incandescent fixtures on the decorative street lamps with the LED fixtures. The town's share of the cost would be $18,696, while it would receive a $14,684 grant and a $100,000 no-interest loan.
However, Walsh has concerns not only about municipal liability if the lamps are not illuminated when patrons leave bars and restaurants at closing time, but also about the impression downtown would make on visitors if the decorative lamps were not lit until at least 2 a.m., particularly on the weekends.
Community and Economic Development Director Mark Barnhart told the selectmen that he has not spoken with bar and restaurant owners that would be affected directly, but said that there are only a handful of downtown restaurants still open after midnight. And for two of those -- Molto and 55 Degrees -- no decorative lamp posts stand in front of the establishments.
Most of the decorative lamps line the Post Road, and Barnhart said he checked with the Police Department's midnight shift commander who said there is scant foot or vehicle traffic downtown after midnight, even on weekends.
"My concern is that the downtown has been revitalized," Walsh said, "and that's great." The lamps, he said, while only decorative, are an amenity for the center. "I just think we owe it to those merchants to contact them."
Walsh asked Barnhart to speak to business owners in the area where the lamps are posted, and also asked Assistant Public Works Director Ed Boman to provide figures at the next selectmen's meeting to show what the cost would be to leave the lights illuminated until 2 a.m.