It’s been four months since we first reported on community criticism of the Town’s initial rollout of LED street lighting in Qualicum Beach’s residential neighbourhoods. Not much has changed. However, we observe a glimmer of hope that common sense may finally begin to prevail in recovering from this completely avoidable fiasco.
The Town engineer has doggedly resisted any meaningful public consultation, instead forcing his one-size-fits-all, high glare, high wattage, unshielded lights on the residents of Qualicum Beach. Only recently, and reluctantly, has Bob Weir, the Town’s director of engineering, suggested that he might allow a few location-specific adjustments — but only if residents themselves pay for the modifications to fix the problems created by Weir’s unilateral decision, an imposition that many residents oppose.
Weir’s homework assignment receives an “F”
After his LED presentation to Council on April 7, 2021, Town engineer Bob Weir had been told to do more homework, specifically instructed to “report back to Council with a more articulated, systemic [sic] complaint process for evaluation of LED streetlights, that includes neighborhood consultation, for Council to review.” Council was probably looking for a ‘systematic’ process. Perhaps “systemic” was a Freudian slip given that, for months, continuing complaints from residents about the LED lighting certainly indicate the presence of a larger “systemic” problem at Town Hall, discussed later in this article.
At Council’s May 27, 2021 regular meeting, Mr. Weir submitted his homework in the form of the following “recommended protocol” which can be found in his staff report in the meeting agenda package:
“It is proposed that street lighting complaints be considered in the following manner:
- Complaint received
- Desktop Review (Wattage, Spacing, Geometrics, Arterial or local)
- If unusual circumstances identified – Town engages Illumination Engineer to find possible resolution (at the Town’s cost)
- If consistent with arterial route lighting and/or good lighting practice that should not be altered – resident(s) informed that no further action is intended
- If there is no obvious variance from good lighting practice other than say closer than typical spacing on a local residential street (e.g. Larch and Dorset) – Town proceeds with stakeholder notification to gauge support or opposition for further review
- Majority of stakeholders support review and agree to pay for Illumination Engineer’s review and possible light modification – Illumination Engineer engaged to provide a report on impacts to lighting levels and safety including a recommendation to the Town
- Illumination Engineer determines acceptable lighting levels for safety following proposed modification – BC Hydro requested to modify light & resident(s) invoiced for costs of review and modification
- Illumination Engineer determines lighting levels not sufficient for safety following proposed modification – residents advised that modification is not supported – resident(s) invoiced for costs of review”
Weir’s homework did not receive a passing grade from Council. Nor from the many concerned residents who continue to connect with Second Opinion QB on this issue. The Council discussion is near the end of the May 27, 2021 Meeting; tune-in to the video at the 2 hr 33 min mark.
As Council rambled around the issue for about 20 minutes, it became increasingly obvious that the majority on Council recognize, as the public has for some time, that the entire LED lighting process has been botched from the get-go. But did they hit the pause button? Nope.
Presumably Mr. Weir can continue to install replacement street lights. Where is our Chief Administrative Officer? CAO Daniel Sailland ought to have clearly communicated to Weir, to Council, and to the public, that no more installations will occur until direction is received from Council to proceed. We estimate that half of the streetlights have been or are being replaced — the 550 streetlights leased from BC Hydro, the ones installed on BC Hydro’s utility poles. There are an additional 585 streetlights in the community that are owned, operated and maintained by the Town that presumably will also need to be upgraded, or that the Town may already have replaced. We just don’t know because Mr. Weir has not reported what he is doing or planning to do with the Town-owned streetlights.
The problem in a nutshell
So where did this project fall off the rails? No public consultation before plowing ahead.
Councillor Filmer stated the rather obvious, “We haven’t had a forum for Council to sit down and listen publicly to the concerns of residents about the street lighting.”
Filmer is being too kind to Town staff. Neither Weir nor Sailland conducted any kind of meaningful engagement with the public about the what, why and how before BC Hydro was instructed to begin LED replacement work. Nor, apparently, did the Town do any investigation on their own about the options, pitfalls, and experiences of other communities, information that is readily available, before deciding to impose high-strength industrial lighting on Qualicum Beach residential neighbourhoods.
As BC Hydro stated in their 2019 planning documents, “Customers [i.e. each municipality] will be required to provide their detailed street light selections to notify us as to which type of street light (wattage / colour temperature) should be installed in each location as well as if any lights should be removed, modified or added.”
Had Weir and Sailland appropriately briefed Council two years ago, and had Council properly engaged the residents of the Town in evaluating and choosing options, all of the rising community anger and loss of trust in both Administration and Council on this issue could have been avoided. Now Weir is suggesting that the residents get to pay for correcting the mistakes caused by his pre-emptive decision to ignore choices that every other community carefully included in their implementation plan.
Some communities are pushing BC Hydro to include more options, including shielding, in their standard offering. For example, in a May 18, 2021 written submission from Kamloops as an intervenor at the recent BC Utilities Commission hearing on BC Hydro’s LED Rate Application, Kamloops’ city engineer stated: “When lighting is changed to LED, City residents are concerned with lights shining into their homes based on the new lighting level. Shields are a very important component of the City’s program in order to resolve the concerns. Upon question, BC Hydro has not provided a response.”
Closer to home, as we reported in our March article, Town misleads, leaves public in limbo on QB streetlighting. Weir’s counterpart in Parksville acknowledged “We do have to balance and make sure that we’re keeping the right light in the right space on the roadways and sidewalks. … There are opportunities in places where we can shield and prevent a lot of the bleed-off.”
So what did Council decide to do at their May 27, 2021 Council meeting?
They fumbled, they stumbled, but the upshot is this: Council postponed voting on the motion to accept Weir’s “protocol”. Instead, they voted to approve an alternative direction, proposed by Councillor Westbroek, to “hire an engineer to help us work through this whole [LED street lighting] program.”
Before reviewing Westbroek’s proposal, we want to point out a disturbing error in the draft minutes of this May 27, 2021 Council meeting. On page 7 the draft minutes claim that the motion to follow Weir’s protocol was adopted. This is 100% wrong. Council, at Town administrator Ms. Svensen’s suggestion, voted to postpone consideration of the motion indefinitely. Whether by Town staff’s intention or through incompetence, anyone in the public reading these draft minutes will be completely misled about what happened at the meeting.
The second motion in the minutes is correct. Council did accept Councillor Westbroek’s “alternative direction”, directing staff “to request proposals from independent qualified illumination engineers to conduct a review of lighting complaints as a result of the installation of the 4000 k / 75 w LED lighting, as part of the ongoing street lighting program within the Town of Qualicum Beach.”
Councillor 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. This is a significant rebuke by Council of the mismanagement of the LED lighting project by Weir and Sailland.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Council and the public have both lost confidence in the ability of Town engineer Bob Weir to properly manage what should have been a relatively straightforward technology upgrade. There are dozens of other communities who have successfully completed this work, most using common sense and their own internal staff. Technical complexity is not the prevailing issue here.
Poor leadership, inadequate oversight, bad planning and — most relevant — the callous neglect and disrespect of public input and concerns by Mr. Weir, and by senior Town management and Council, have characterized this project. Having been excoriated by Council, the public and the media, it might be time for Mr. Weir to dust off his résumé.
Meanwhile, public impatience and skepticism continue to grow, as typified by this recent comment from a reader “I don’t think residents need a lighting engineer to confirm or deny their legitimate personal perception that the lights are cold, life-sucking and so bright they hurt their eyes. These are aesthetic as much as objective concerns and can’t be quantified by an engineer.”