FPL changing rules on power pole lighting

By Jane Smith

Sea turtles and humans could be in the dark each night along the mile-plus stretch of Delray Beach’s public beachfront during the eight- month turtle-nesting season.

Good news for sea turtles. Not such good news for folks walking across A1A to visit nightspots.

But, when confronted with three lighting options from Florida Power & Light, the majority of city commissioners voted last month for the nesting season blackout.

The city now has turtle-friendly, amber-glowing light fixtures mounted on FPL-owned poles. They illuminate 1.2 miles of State Road A1A between George Bush Boulevard and Casuarina Road year-round. But FPL no longer allows customer light fixtures on its poles, Susan Goebel-Canning, the city’s Public Works director, told Delray Beach commissioners at their Aug. 21 meeting.

Utility spokesman Richard Beltran confirmed this in an email, saying FPL has told coastal customers that it will no longer service fixtures that are owned by municipalities on its light poles.

FPL wants to switch out the old sodium-vapor lights for new LED lights that are 50 percent more energy efficient and fall within state Public Service Commission guidelines. FPL presented three choices to the city, Goebel-Canning said.

The utility could install white, LED lights that would be illuminated November through February, which coincides with the height of the tourist season. Starting March 1 through Oct. 31, the turtle-nesting season, the stretch of A1A would be dark at night.

Or, FPL could install turtle-friendly lights that would cast a red glow. Those lights would stay on year-round.

The first two options would be at minimal or no cost to the city.

The third choice would be for the city to install its own fixtures and poles along the west side of A1A. The cost is estimated to be $520,000.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recommends red or amber LED lights to keep sea turtles from being distracted by ambient light during nesting and when hatchlings search for the ocean.

Beltran told The Coastal Star after the meeting that FPL has selected a turtle-friendly LED lighting that is approved by the FWC. “That light gives off an amber-reddish hue,” he said. “The old sodium-vapor lights were more amber-looking.”

Four commissioners voted for the turtle season blackouts because the red lights were seen as not providing enough illumination. They want to have some lighting on A1A, but they also didn’t want to add another cost onto the city budget.

Deputy Vice Mayor Shirley Johnson voted for the city’s putting in its own fixtures and poles. “If you want something, you’re going to have to pay for it,” she said.

Goebel-Canning alerted FPL about the commission’s preliminary decision.

That prompted the utility and city to start working on an agreement for FPL to take over the fixtures on the 34 light poles, and Beltran said in late August the two were “pretty close” to a deal. Once that is finished, FPL will create a schedule to replace the fixtures. The change will take four to five months, Beltran said.

Some light on promenade

Once the second phase of the city’s beach master plan is completed, the promenade area will not be completely dark. Amber pedestrian lighting will be installed along the sidewalk on the east side of the promenade, according to city staff. That plan is in the design phase, with work set to start next May.

While this lighting will improve pedestrian safety on the sidewalk, it will not provide sufficient roadway illumination, Goebel-Canning said.

If commissioners want to install poles and lights in the high-pedestrian area one block north and south of Atlantic, they could submit a change order to the beach master plan, she said.

The Beach Property Owners Association learned of FPL’s request in early August and will discuss it at the board’s Sept. 6 meeting, said Andy Katz, trustee of the organization.

“It’s dangerous to have no lights for eight months of the year,” said Katz, who was speaking for himself and not the board. “You’re asking for trouble.”

If you parked on the east side of A1A in Delray Beach and wanted to cross the street in the summer to eat at a restaurant, you might not be seen by a driver, Katz said.

Katz said the street lights between Atlantic Avenue and Casuarina Road were out for one month earlier in the summer. “That’s how long FPL took to make the fix,” he said. “It was foreboding.”

Highland Beach and Boca Raton use the LED lights that are turned off eight months of the year, but they don’t have the active beachfront establishments that Delray Beach has, Katz said.

Ocean Ridge, which has a stretch of public road along the beach, has not been approached by FPL about changing out its light fixtures, Town Manager Jamie Titcomb said.  “Our lights are already shielded for turtle purposes,” he said. 

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