RACINE — We Energies has begun taking down 530 streetlights and alley lights designated for removal by the city’s Department of Public Works.
Utility crews began removing lights on Tuesday, Public Works Commissioner Mark Yehlen said Wednesday.
Yehlen had hoped to publish maps on the city’s website showing the lights slated for removal before crews showed up to take them down, but he said delays in getting the data he needed from We Energies prevented him from doing so.
The idea was to have the maps posted at least two weeks before We Energies starting removing lights so residents could contact the city if, for instance, the maps showed that a street had more or fewer lights than actually existed.
On Wednesday, those maps were still not ready, but Yehlen did have a list of the lights the city told the utility to remove.
“To be able to have the leases end at the end of the August, I had to agree to let them just move ahead. I was hoping to get the list back from them in the middle of August,” he said. “I didn’t get the list back from them until the beginning of September.”
He added that the utility also wanted to get the work done while the weather is mild.
We Energies Spokesman Brian Manthey said Wednesday said it will likely take utility crews about two months, or until mid-November, to remove all the lights if the weather stays good.
Yehlen chose the lights to be removed using a spacing policy dictating that streets between 350 and 699 feet long only have one mid-block streetlight, and streets between 700 and 1,049 feet have only two mid-block lights.
Because he didn’t have time to verify the data he received from We Energies, he said there will likely be instances where a light that shouldn’t be removed is pegged for removal.
The hope is that residents will contact his department, as a man on Summit Avenue did on Wednesday, if they see We Energies taking out a light or lights that they shouldn’t be taking down based on the streetlight spacing policy.
“Moving ahead, I am not going say they’re isn’t going to be a little breakage, but we’ll fix it,” he said.
Of the 530 lights selected for removal, 122 are alley lights.
The removals are expected to save the city $84,085 a year in electricity charges, Yehlen said.
Yehlen first approached the City Council about his plan to remove streetlights during last fall’s budget hearings. At the time he told aldermen the move was the only feasible way to absorb a $90,000 cut to his department.
After coming up with a final spacing plan, the number of lights selected for removal was further reduced after Racine Police Chief Art Howell requested that “recovering” sections of the city be exempt from having lights removed. The “decision to ‘carve out’ certain neighborhoods” was motivated by a number of factors, Howell said in July, including the need to ensure that officers making traffic stops in high crime areas have proper lighting.
The only areas that could have lights removed in the future would be those in the areas that the police asked be exempted from the current cuts, Yehlen said.
“I really don’t want to do this ever again,” he said.