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Published: Thursday, 12/9/2010

Toledo Edison disputes report on faulty streetlights

Seventy-four-year-old Helen Horton has lived in her North Toledo home on Austin Street for two decades and as the neighborhood changed, one thing stayed the same: The streetlight in front of her house has flickered on and off.

No matter how many times she called Toledo Edison, she said, it hasn't been changed.

"It's pitch-black out there when it's off," Ms. Horton said Wednesday.

After being told a report suggested more than one-fourth of all city streetlights do not work, Ms. Horton said she wasn't surprised. "I've called the power company many times, but I am always told that my light is just the way it is," she said.

Earlier this week, Toledo Councilman D. Michael Collins secured a copy of a report by a city intern this year that said 27.3 percent of streetlights do not work, 25 percent don't emit enough light, and 65 percent of lights in five city parks were out.

Toledo City Council is considering 2010 and 2011 assessments on property owners for the full cost of all streetlights in the city -- which do not take into account the number that fail to work.

Mark Durbin, a spokesman for Toledo Edison parent company FirstEnergy Corp., acknowledged some streetlights do not work, but said he "wholeheartedly disagreed" with the findings of the report completed in August by Stephen Leggett, now in law school at the University of Toledo.

"In any given year we probably repair hundreds of streetlights throughout the city, but you have to keep in mind there are 28,000 throughout the city. so that is a fairly small percentage," Mr. Durbin said. "We urge our customers to help us and to report streetlights being out … and by using our procedures, it helps expedite the process."

Mr. Durbin said the company's goal is to fix a broken streetlight within three days after being notified and that Toledo Edison plans to do a citywide audit of streetlights.

"Once that is complete, we will use the audit to make any repairs going forward and we are very proud of the great working relationship we have with the city of Toledo and this extends to getting the streetlights repaired," Mr. Durbin said. "Lights are an issue that people take very seriously."

Toledo Councilman Michael Ashford, chairman of council's public utilities committee, said it is not fair for property owners to be assessed the full cost for street lighting if in fact 27.3 percent of the lights are not lit.

"I think the city is way behind in manpower to conduct an assessment of street lighting throughout the community," Mr. Ashford said.

He commended United North Corp., which has organized neighborhood walks to identify nonworking streetlights.

"This is where we have to ask some of our community development corporations to communicate some of those needs … and they are the ones who have the ability to go out an update the street lighting," he said.

Councilman Lindsay Webb, whose district includes North Toledo, said residents such as Ms. Horton have complained for years about street lighting.

"It's a big issue certainly for the neighborhood and folks draw the reasonable inference that brighter and more street lighting acts as a deterrent to crimes," Ms. Webb said. "Council passed legislation this year to request Toledo Edison upgrade the remaining lights in North Toledo to high-pressure sodium and light the alleys."

Mr. Leggett's report stated that mercury vapor bulbs produce less than half of light they are rated for and should be replaced as they age.

Ms. Webb said she had not seen Mr. Leggett's report and does not want to rely on his findings.

"I certainly don't want to diminish Mr. Leggett, but I need to know what were the parameters of the report … and I am not willing to take it as gospel," she said. "Do we have a lighting problem? Yes. But I have been consistently working with Toledo Edison since day one."

Sherry Walker, president of the Lagrange Village Council, a North Toledo neighborhood coalition, said many streets in the area have unlit street lamps.

"We have had problems like every neighborhood does in the city, where the kids come down the street and a lot of people feel the streets are not lit enough," she said. "We have had a pretty good rapport with [Toledo Edison], but we are finding there is not a good enough checkup with the workers who are actually doing the work and the supervisors back at the office to make sure things are getting done."

Terry Glazer, who runs United North Corp., said he's also urged Toledo Edison to fix and upgrade all the lights.

"We believe that when you have more lighting that it creates more safety and it definitely makes people feel safer," he said. "It is a service we are already paying for, so it's not like we are asking Toledo Edison to do some charity."

Contact Ignazio Messina at 419-724-6171 or imessina@theblade.com.



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