TSO Continues Deliberations On New Regulations For Street Lights And Trash


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Report On The Meeting Of The Town Services And Outreach Committee (TSO), February 9, 2023 

The meeting was held on Zoom and was recorded. The recording can be viewed here.

Ana Devlin Gauthier (Vice Chair, District 5), Andy Steinberg (at large), Dorothy Pam (District 3), Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5). Absent: Anika Lopes (Chair, District 4)

Staff: Athena O’Keefe (Clerk of Council), Paul Bockelman (Town Manager), Amy Rusiecki (Assistant Superintendent of Public Works)

Also: Mandi Jo Hanneke (Town Councilor, at large), James Lowenthal (Professor of Astronomy, Smith College)

The number of members of the public in attendance was not announced.

Hanneke and Devlin Gauthier’s proposal would change the types of bulbs and fixtures used in town streetlamps and eventually create lighting zones specifying how much lighting is necessary in each area.

The bulk of the meeting was devoted to ongoing deliberations on two proposed new sets of regulations, a policy to regulate street lighting  and a new bylaw to regulate trash hauling. The street lighting regulations, aimed at reducing light pollution in town, would change the types of bulbs and fixtures used for the town’s street lights and eventually create lighting zones that specify how much lighting is necessary in each zone. The trash bylaw would move the town from having residents contract individually with a waste hauler to the town seeking a contract with a single hauler for all properties through a competitive bidding process. The new bylaw would include waste reduction mandates including townwide curbside compost pickup. Discussion of both proposals included introduction of new language and questions. The committee agreed to seek additional input and continue deliberations of both proposals at future meetings. 

The committee also declined to reconsider its decision at its previous meeting to recommend to the full council that the town assume ownership of water and sewer lines from the main to the property line in two years. The full council will take up that issue on February 27 as part of its vote on adopting new water and sewer regulations.

Street Lighting Policy
TSO continued its deliberations on a new street lighting policy that the committee last took up at their meeting on November 10, 2022.

The latest draft incorporates suggestions received since the November 10 meeting. It removes most of the language about specific locations for lighting zones. Mandi Jo Hanneke, a co-sponsor with Ana Devlin Gauthier, said that she and Devlin Gauthier will endeavor to establish lighting standards first and then address the question of defining lighting zones in town. The draft includes the town’s current lighting policy (begins on page 8), with the existing language about standards and locations.

Dorothy Pam voiced her concern about the specificity of standards for equipment required by the proposal and wondered if the effort wouldn’t end up micromanaging the work of the DPW. She said she finds the language to be extremely technical and wonders whether such specifications would tie the hands of the people who need to manage the town’s lighting. Andy Steinberg concurred and shared concerns about micromanagement. He said the proposed language “goes beyond the technical capacities of councilors to understand. There’s far too much detail and we need to trust our professional staff to make these decisions. The council can’t adopt such a bylaw because they will not understand the technical details that the bylaw requires. It seems like this is the kind of thing that professional staff should be proposing to us rather than us to them.”

Ana Devlin Gauthier responded that this kind of language is currently missing for Department of Public Works (DPW) practices, which she sees as being out of date. “DPW is familiar with the language,” she said, “and we can’t move the standards forward without the technical language.”

Paul Bockelman added, “There really isn’t much of a policy [for street lighting] now so this would be new. We need to consider the cost and time frame of implementation and consult with DPW on that.”

Hanneke clarified that she and Devlin Gauthier are proposing a policy, not a bylaw, describing it as  “more like a regulation falling under the council’s mandate as keepers of the public way”.

James Lowenthal, who has been advising Hanneke and Devlin Gauthier on the policy, said that he is intimately familiar with the components of this proposal. “The objections that we just heard have also come up in other communities,” he said. He further noted that the International Dark Skies Association Massachusetts Chapter posts a model dark skies lighting bylaw that has significant overlap with the policy Amherst is considering. Currently, he said, 54 Massachusetts municipalities including Hadley and Northampton have outdoor lighting ordinances that are more comprehensive than Amherst’s.

Lowenthal added, “All of our experience shows that without the technical details you don’t get the outcomes you seek. And lighting is technical and requires diving into the details. Most DPWs are not equipped to do this — they do not typically have lighting experts on staff” at the level that is necessary to protect the nighttime environment. “Light pollution in the U.S.,” he added, “is growing at the astounding rate of 10% per year. This outpaces population growth, and it means that people are just using more bad lighting.” .”

Addressing concerns about the costs of changing the town’s lighting, Lowenthal acknowledged that the changes cost money but noted that turning lights off and adding dimmers saves money and energy. “In the end,” he said, “good lights don’t cost more than bad lights.” He cited a study done in Pepperell, Massachusetts showing that the best lights — the least blue, the least bright, and with the least glare — were most preferred by residents and were also least expensive.

Hanneke said that officials in Pepperell told her they had replaced about 400 lights and fixtures a few years ago for about $200,000. Amherst has about 700 streetlights altogether.

According to Hanneke,  Superintendent of Public Works Guilford Mooring told her that the town’s current street lamps are “at the end of their useful life and are starting to fail  …and we don’t have any guidance in place to govern their replacement”. She added that If we are looking for a certain spectrum of light for our streetlights (i.e. less blue) then we need to specify the spectrum we want for our purchasing agent.

Shalini Bahl-Milne suggested getting input from  the town staff and from the public. She said that she’d like to know the implications of the proposed regulations for different constituencies, such as  residents, businesses, town staff, people who use bicycles, people who walk, etc.

Devlin Gauthier noted that before changing their streetlights, some towns, including Pepperell, set up demonstrations so that residents could experience the different kinds of lighting options and offer feedback. But she also said that “not everything needs to go through staff” and that “it’s fine that this proposal didn’t originate with DPW.”

Hanneke asked Bockelman for permission to reach out to Mooring to get his input on the proposal. Bockelman replied that the Town Council needs to decide first whether lighting policy is a priority and then request staff time. However, he also said that  “given the amount of effort already put in by TSO, perhaps they can proceed with a meeting with Mooring and the town electrician to get some feedback.”

Raising concerns about dangers to people walking after dark in parts of town as well as to cyclists,  Steinberg said that he doesn’t think that TSO is ready to move forward with this proposal. He said he wants the input from public safety.Pam added that she would like to get input from the Transportation Advisory Committee. Bahl-Milne asked for input from the Disability Access Committee and when the next big change of lights in town is expected.

The sponsors agreed to solicit additional input.

Refuse Collection Bylaw
Bockleman reported that we are still in the information collecting phase of developing these proposed new regulations. Advisory work funded by a Department of Environmental Protection technical assistance grant is just getting started, and he will know more after an upcoming meeting with Mooring and consultant Susan Waite. He added that he had spoken with several haulers (besides the current hauler operating in Amherst, USA Waste and Recycling) at the recent Mass Municipal Association conference and there is interest in bidding for the town’s business. He added that a lot of education would need to be done about the  proposed regulations, e.g. explaining why they are good for the environment and the economy. He commended Zero Waste Amherst for the work they are doing in that regard.

The committee had planned to do a line by line review of the proposed bylaw but the draft had not been placed in the meeting packet in advance of the meeting, so councilors deferred that review until their next TSO meeting. Bahl-Milne announced that she will be the lead sponsor of this initiative. She assured the committee that the latest draft will be placed in the packet in a timely manner.

Revisiting The Motion On Ownership of Water And Sewer Lines
TSO and the Finance Committee appear to have achieved consensus on all but one aspect of the proposed new water and sewer regulations. Where they disagree is on when the town should assume ownership of water and sewer lines from the main to the property line. Currently, Amherst residents are responsible for all repairs to these lines, beginning at the main. In a discussion that has gone on for months, TSO, which had originally recommended that the town assume ownership of the lines from the main to the property line, agreed to postpone enacting that change for two years, in response to a recommendation from town Finance Director Sean Mangano not to assume ownership at this time because that would entail additional costs to residents. Water and sewer rates are already expected to increase substantially because the renovation of the Centennial Water treatment plant, now estimated to cost over $21 million, will be funded from the water and sewer enterprise fund. 

TSO voted on January 13, 2023 to postpone the ownership change for two years. The Finance Committee voted on January 10, 2023 to reconsider the question of ownership in two years. (At its February 7 meeting, member Devlin-Gauthier unsuccessfully moved that it adopt the TSO position for the ownership change to begin in January 2025.) At this meeting, Steinberg unsuccessfully moved that the TSO adopt the Finance Committee’s  position for the ownership change to be revisited in two years. Both motions failed for lack of a second.

Bockelman observed that both committees agree that a change ought to happen, and that the TSO is saying it should happen automatically in two years while the Finance Committee believes it should be reconsidered in two years. The two recommendations will be taken up by the entire Town Council on February 27, he noted, but everyone agrees on all other aspects of the revised regulations.

Pam emphasized that she saw TSO’s original position as a matter of economic justice, that repairs that are necessary under the town streets can cost a resident tens of thousands of dollars, and that many Amherst residents cannot afford to pay for such repairs to public water and sewer lines. Steinberg countered that “a change in ownership will entail an additional expense for somebody. If we follow the TSO suggestion, the water rates go up for everybody,” he said. “The alternative is that homeowners can bear the risks for the lines that run to their house, or they will have to buy insurance. But there’s a cost either way.”

TSO will meet again on Thursday, February 24 at 7:00 p.m. On the agenda for that meeting will be a discussion of the town’s Surveillance Bylaw to consider new dash cameras acquired by the Amherst police, as well as continued deliberation on street lighting and trash regulations.

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2 thoughts on “TSO Continues Deliberations On New Regulations For Street Lights And Trash

  1. When we moved to North Amherst 30+ years ago, it was not unusual to view the Milky Way — our own galaxy “edge-on” — from the end of our street near UMass, or even in our little backyard.

    For the past decade, light pollution from the campus — and an improperly shielded streetlamp at the intersection nearest our house — has precluded this naked-eye amateur astronomy.

    So I hope this sensible guidance offered by James Lowenthal (a professional astronomer/astrophysicist) will be considered seriously by the Council, and that we’ll be rewarded once again with a chance to see “the greatest show on Earth”!

  2. When Hannke, Devlin Gauthier, and Lowenthal presented to the TSO back in November, Lowenthal showed a light pollution map for the Amherst area. In this map, the UMass campus is by far the most lit part of Amherst, and I would argue that it’s overlit. When I have been on the campus late at night or early in the morning before dawn, a number of campus buildings, such as the rec center, appears to have all of it lights on. Same with many of the athletic fields and parking lots. Is that much lighting needed 24/7? Having less lighting could have less impact on the night sky, be more energy efficient, and reduce lighting costs. The UMass campus can be seen at night for miles, even from towns across the Connecticut River. In contrast to UMass, the Amherst College campus is much more subtly lit at night, with lower height lighting and less lighting projected outward from buildings. The same is true with the Hampshire College campus. I hope that UMass will consider reducing its night lighting and light pollution. The sponsors for the new streetlights policy have said that the college campuses are outside of the scope of their proposal. That makes sense. This said, perhaps Councilors and others who are dark skies proponents could still reach out to UMass on this issue. Reducing the light pollution at UMass would make Amherst overall more dark skies friendly and reduce the negative impacts on human health and wildlife from excessive lighting.

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