Village to issue bond to help finance project
In a sense, the two sides in the Village of Great Neck LED debate are saying the other is in need of enlightenment.
Well before the village put out a request for proposals (RFP) in April to replace approximately 800 high-pressure sodium streetlights with LED (light-emitting diode) illumination, a small but vocal minority insisted that the bulbs are not as economical, efficient and safe as the marketing hype suggests.
The anti-LED campaign can be dated to February 2016, when then–state Senator Jack Martins announced that he had secured a $250,000 grant, through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), to aid the village in funding the changeover. Reportedly, the last mass change in public lighting took place about 25 years ago. The village had researched switching to LEDs earlier this decade, but the cost (about $1,000 per fixture) was prohibitive. As demand rose and more municipalities made the switch, the cost has dropped dramatically.
Early in the July 18 meeting of Village of Great Neck Board of Trustees, Mayor Pedram Bral, freshly elected to a second term, outlined his accomplishments and hopes. He then made a direct appeal to the critics of his administration: “To continue a negative path. To always be in opposition, with no constructive criticism, will diminish the value of your attendance at our board meetings.”
He was to be disappointed.
Judy Shore Rosenthal, an opponent of the LED changeover, continued her campaign of letters and public comment against the “latest and greatest” light bulb.
During public comment, she cited two magazine articles detailing the unforeseen costs and questioning the reliability of LED streetlights. She again brought up health issues, including the “blue light” emission that is reportedly injurious to human and animal health.
Referring to fellow resident and campaigner Amy Glass, Rosenthal affirmed, “For well over one year, two diligent and concerned Great Neck residents have been amply supplying [the board] with scientific evidence that hit on the health hazards of LEDs. And I thought that would have stopped the project in its tracks.”
When she had talked for more than twice the allotted time of three minutes, Bral finally interjected, “I’ve heard enough.”
He went on to challenge the biases of the articles she cited, noting that if they were correct, then all the schools and libraries and municipalities that had installed LEDs “must be doing something wrong. I’ve seen LED lights everywhere else. Are you going to tell me they’re going to take those LED lights off the LIE and other places and replace them with [sodium] bulbs? Are you going to tell me that’s going to be the next step? I don’t think so.”
He went on, “I know there are people biased against LED lights—and I understand and appreciate it. Like everything else that we do in life, there are people that are going to be for it and against it. We need to know all the facts.”
He summed up the case for LEDs: “We’re going to have great lights, much safer streets, we’re going to save a lot of money and we’re going to save lives, possibly.”
Bonding the Lights
Village Treasurer/Clerk Joe Gill introduced a resolution to bond the cost of the new lighting system, noting, “Though our funding has already been designated by a grant from NYSERDA and the use of the Community Benefit Fund, the board may want to change its mind on how we finance the light proposal.”
Gill added, “This is just to protect us in case—and I don’t expect anything to happen, but if something were to happen with the grant, which has to be released by New York State—we may be left with a convenient way to pay for the project.”
Gill mentioned a figure of $600,000, which he hastened to add was not what he expected the project to cost.
“This is just to protect the village in case something were to happen—[if] the grant would fall through or we decided that we did not want to use Community Benefit Fund money for the expenses of the project. That [we’ll have] another way to come up with the funds.”
Glass, one of the critics of the LED proposal, stood up during the public comment period and stated, “This came as quite a surprise to me, to see the bond being considered, because I knew that we had gotten the grant. Would such a bond be subject to a public referendum or approval of any kind?,” she asked.
“No,” the mayor called out.
Glass continued, “Because you’ve suddenly changed—potentially—the entire idea of the project, which was supposed to save a lot of money for the village. And now we’re suddenly talking about spending $600,000—potentially. I’m not saying that we’re going to spend it—which will be reflected back on our taxes. This is like a whole new world just opened up.”
The mayor responded, “An easy way to explain it is it’s like buying life insurance or disability insurance. You don’t expect to be disabled or die prematurely, but just in case, you have something to fall back on. We are going forward with the project. We need to know, in case something happens that is unforeseeable, that we are protected.”
Glass acknowledged the insurance analogy, but asserted, “We citizens here are family and it doesn’t sound like we get to have input into this decision.”
Gill assured, “There is every indication that the grant will be approved and will happen. But if for some reason it doesn’t happen, I don’t want to expend any cash the village has on hand and tie that up with the project.”
Gill went on to say that “it’s a reimbursement grant and we have to put that money out first.”
For those interested in what the lights would look like, as well as their illumination, the mayor and Gill suggested that residents could check them out after the meeting, when it got dark. The four styles of LED lights are on display on the south side of Baker Hill Road, across from Village Hall, and stretch from Ruxton Road to Hampshire Road.
“These are the finalists, so to speak, our choices right now,” Gill said. “This is what it boils down to for the requirements we told [the consultants] we wanted. There are different costs to each light.”
Gill said the consultants, Real Term Energy, have been involved with projects that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of light installations.
“They will be here on Aug. 1 to make a presentation and [report on] what the options for the village are,” Gill said.
In previous discussion, it had been decided to change the time of that regular board meeting to 5 p.m. to accommodate those of the Jewish faith observing the holiday of Tisha B’Av.
Resident Jean Pierce objected to the date and time, claiming that many people, because of the holiday, would not be able to attend. She suggested the presentation be put off until the Aug. 15 meeting.
Gill said he had hoped to get it done that night, but Real Term Energy could not be there.
“I’m under a lot of pressure from people whose lights are out and want them to be replaced,” said Gill. “It doesn’t make sense to put up a new [sodium] light when in another month I’m going to have to replace it. I’m under pressure to get this project on the street and get the trucks out there and start replacing the lights.”
Pierce again objected to the Aug. 1 date.
“I’m sorry, I can’t make all the meetings convenient [for everyone],” replied a clearly exasperated Gill.
However the street lighting project is financed, Gill expected the changeover to pay for itself within a five-year period. Yearly electric energy savings, he said, are estimated at between $50,000 to $100,000. As of now the village spends about $175,000 per year on its street lights—about $100,000 of that to the utility company in energy costs.
Meeting Time Change On Aug. 1
The next meeting of the Village of Great Neck Board of Trustees will be held on Aug. 1 at 5 p.m. instead of the usual 7:30 p.m. because of the Tisha B’Av holiday. At this meeting, the final recommendations by the LED light consultants, Real Term Energy, will be made and the board is expected to pick the bids.