Council fumbles LED street lights again, residents surveyed

Qualicum Beach Council and the Town’s CAO Daniel Sailland have let the LED streetlight issue slide back into farce territory.

One step ahead, then two steps back

In a previous Second Opinion QB story, we described Council’s May 2021 rejection of Town Engineer Bob Weir’s proposed LED ‘protocol’ for responding to resident concerns. Weir’s unilateral imposition of stark industrial-strength overhead street lighting in Town neighbourhoods was done without public consultation in advance. Council specifically requested that a third party illumination expert be contracted to get the project back on the rails.

In the article, Town to hire lighting engineer to fix Weir’s LED mess, we reported that “Councillor [Teunis] Westbroek commented: ‘We have to get this right because it will be with us for a long time.’ He suggested that the services of the contracted engineer should include public outreach, and the formulation of complete assessment criteria, and that management of this review would be conducted by this engineering consultant. In other words, not managed by Mr. Weir, not managed by Mr. Sailland, but managed by the contracted engineering specialist, reporting directly to Council.”

Mayor Wiese and Councillor Harrison tried, unsuccessfully, to do away with the recommended street lighting pilot projects.

For some inexplicable reason though, CAO Daniel Sailland, rather than take responsibility for this next step, apparently left it to… Bob Weir. Incredibily, Mr. Weir was allowed to hire and oversee someone to assess the mess that Weir himself had created, a fiasco that has resulted in public criticism from one end of Town to the other.

Mr. Sailland’s abdication of responsibility raises a couple of obvious questions:  How exactly did Mr. Weir frame the objectives and scope of this assignment to potential Illumination Engineering contactors? To whom is the contractor accountable?

All that is publicly known about the engagement with an Illumination Engineer is what precious little written information Bob Weir reported to Council at their July 21, 2021 Council meeting — the gist of which was that apparently only one contractor was interested in bidding for this job, and s/he wants no contact with the public! Imagine Mr. Weir’s disappointment hearing that. Read it for yourself.

Mr. Weir’s written submission to Council re LED lighting – July 21, 2021:

Council’s botched direction to Town administration – ineptitude or sly manoeuver?

But the blame for this latest illumination engineer engagement farce does not rest solely with Sailland and Weir. Council had not made their expectations clear. Their May 27, 2021 resolution directing “staff” (they should have specifically told the CAO to do it) to recruit outside expertise to “conduct a review of lighting complaints” fell far short of the intentions expressed by Councillors at the May 27th meeting to “hire an engineer to help us work through this whole program” and to include “a forum for Council to sit down and listen publicly to the concerns of residents about the street lighting.”

Nor has Council uttered a peep about Mr. Weir’s exclusion of Town-owned lights from the consultant’s scope of work in his July 21st report to Council.

Weir — apparently unilaterally — explicitly included only the 550 BC Hydro “pole mounted lease lights.” What about the other half, the 585 streetlights owned, operated and maintained by the Town itself? Presumably all these Town-owned street lights will also need to be replaced by 2025 to meet federal regulations prohibiting continued use of PCBs. It is astonishing that information about the total numbers of lights involved and their current replacement status has neither been included in staff reports nor asked for by Council in open meetings.

New 4000-kelvin LED street light fixture, foreground, sodium lights in distance. Qualicum Beach, BC.

Readers are encouraged to view Council’s handling of the LED street lighting issue at its July 21, 2021 meeting (near the end, at the 2 hr 52 min mark), as well as at the beginning of a subsequent July 28, 2021 Special Council Meeting.

The end result was the following July 28, 2021 Council resolution that “the Illumination Consultant for the LED street light complaints program be asked to review a number of the locations where complaints have been received for modifications (including light location, reduced wattage, colour temperature, luminaire type, length of arm, height and orientation) and that recommended changes be implemented as pilot projects in these locations; AND FURTHER THAT the results, data gathered by the Illumination Consultant and recommendations for the broader community approach be presented for consideration at a future Committee of the Whole meeting.”

Mayor Wiese and Councillor Harrison tried, unsuccessfully, to do away with the recommended street lighting pilot projects.

Nor has Council uttered a peep about Mr. Weir’s exlusion of Town-owned lights from the consultant’s scope of work. …the other half (585) of the streetlights in Qualicum Beach.

For contrast, we share with you the kind of mayoral leadership and public engagement happening in another coastal community. A reader pointed us to this posting by Mayor Dennis Buchanan of Alert Bay:

We know there has been some concern with regards to the new street lights being rolled out. This post is to let you know that Hydro is going to come in and place a few of the new LED lights to help us make our choices for the replacement process. They are going to put two by BC Ferries on Fir street. One closest to the ferry will be a 162 watt and 114 watt closer to town. Then there will be two on Alder Road by the Alert Bay Campground one will be a 39 watt and the other will be a 75 watt LED. So there will be some test lights arriving in Alert Bay in the near future.

Mayor Buchanan, May 14, 2021

Community survey confirms public dissatisfaction with LED process and results

“As a result of the Town’s decision not to consult with the community,” the Board of the Qualicum Beach Residents Association (QBRA) canvassed their members directly over the summer with a comprehensive survey. A majority of survey respondents feel strongly that the Town must remedy the unilateral decision by Town Administration to install excessively strong lighting, particularly in local residential neighbourhoods. Here’s a sample question from the QBRA survey and the response:

Not all street lights were changed over this year; however, knowing that those lights [that] were installed are of the greatest and brightest strength (75 watts, 4000-kelvin colour temperature), would you consider it reasonable to have the Town retrofit residential streets to a less costly, BC Hydro approved and safe setting of 39 watts, 3000-kelvin colour temperature knowing this will provide some relief to neighbours and residents adversely affected by these lights?”

Out of 132 survey respondents, 113 (85%) answered YES.

Preliminary Results from external Illumination Review

No Council meetings were scheduled in August, so our next opportunity for a glimpse into the work being conducted behind closed doors by Mr. Weir and his hired Illumination Engineer was at the regular Council meeting on September 8, 2021.

As the meeting entered its fourth hour, Mr. Weir took 20 minutes to provide a fatigued Council with a meandering verbal update. No recommendations, no written report, no Council decision required, and no stated objective for the presentation. Weir-d.

We share a couple of Weir’s slides here — to get the full picture, start at the 3 hr 14 min mark of the meeting video.

A dozen or so slides attempted to simulate the level of light, as well as pattern of light distribution,  produced by the “HPS” (high pressure sodium) lights being replaced, compared to the proposed “LED” (light emitting diode) fixtures. The material is a bit confusing, not helped by the occasional mislabeled slide.

Note that the caption beneath the LED LAMPS image states this is a simulation of an HPS lamp — not an LED fixture as the slide’s title mistakenly states. “LLF” stands for Light Loss Factor, apparently reflecting a lamp’s age and accumulated grime. In other words, wait a few years until the LEDs get really old and dirty, and they will become more tolerable… ?

These are the “prelininary [sic] findings” that Mr. Weir shared with his audience during his presentation, which he concluded by saying that “the report is coming along well.”

Keeping our eyes on the ball

Rather than jumping into a myriad of debates about the appropriate specifications for individual streetlights, our community deserves, and increasingly expects, a fulsome plan that is driven by specific objectives, and managed with appropriate public and Town oversight. Otherwise, residents won’t have an opportunity to ask and discuss some broader questions such as – does my little ‘hood with no thru streets need street lights at every single block?

‘We have to get this right because it will be with us for a long time.’

Councillor Teunis Westbroek
– Qualicum Beach Council

Town leadership seems to sometimes lose sight of the primary intent of street light replacement which is, according to BC Hydro, “to ensure compliance with new federal regulations that require all light ballasts containing Poly-Chlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) be removed by the end of 2025.” Instead, Qualicum Beach residents are being coerced into accepting that our town also needs amped up street lighting to help those who cannot drive safely in the dark, or to prevent the Town from being sued if someone walks into a tree in the dark.

That’s nonsense. For everyone’s safety, anyone in a vehicle equipped with working headlights who cannot see clearly at night on a dark roadway without high-powered overhead lighting should be a passenger, not a driver. Walking at night? The glare of these industrial-strength LED street lights often impedes a person’s ability to see — anyone who has ever watched a cop show will tell you that’s why the cops shine a bright light into the criminal’s eyes…

Concerned about traffic safety at night? We suggest starting with a public safety campaign to fine the many drivers / owners whose vehicle is missing a headlight or taillight. Or better still, install a cost-effective 3-in-1 photo and radar system that can detect vehicles speeding, not stopping at a stop sign, running a red light, or missing a headlight.

Related articles:

Harsh new street lighting decried February 4, 2021

Town misleads, leaves public in limbo on QB street lighting March 4, 2021

Opposition to new street lighting grows March 19, 2021

Town to hire lighting engineer to fix Weir’s LED mess June 7, 2021