The lighting consultant town manager Roger Hernstadt brought in to help guide the council toward a lighting solution on Estero Boulevard will not be getting any more town business. Monday was the last straw for this town council.
Two Town Lighting employees and two FPL representatives attended the Monday town council meeting to answer questions about installing lights on Estero Boulevard. Town Lighting had been hired by the town, in 2021, to research the issue and prepare a plan for the council which would help council members decide the type of light to install, how many fixtures and poles were needed and, of course, the cost.
That’s where things went off the rails yesterday.
It was clear the consultants were not prepared to answer questions about the cost. Or, they weren’t told in advance to be prepared to answer questions about cost. Anyone paying attention to this issue knew the most confusing piece of the puzzle has been determining the cost.
This council has made it clear they plan to install amber lights to protect wildlife.
After the input the council received from Town Lighting during the discussion Monday, Councilman Dan Allers said he’s lost confidence in the consultant. “They seemed very under-prepared. It was astounding to me. Today was a mess.”
Mayor Ray Murphy said he agreed with Allers. “The one that was on the screen today (Suzanne Landsford from Town Lighting), we’ve never been able to get a straight answer out of her and when we do, half the time it’s not correct. What more do we need from this consultant?”
Town Manager Roger Hernstadt said once a final decision is made the town will need to hire a lighting consultant but it does not have to be this consultant. He said this consultant was on a day-to-day hourly rate based on the town getting to that final decision.
In the summer of 2021, the town hired Town Lighting under a contract that could have gone as high as $185,000. We have asked for the invoices the town paid to the company to get a final amount paid out.
The most cost efficient solution for Fort Myers Beach taxpayers is to partner with FPL and use a lighting system on their tariff program which means FPL would pick up a lot of the cost. FPL’s Tariff program is afforded to municipalities on a one-time basis to subsidize projects due to a conversion from old technology, such as high-pressure sodium, to LED’s. If the town tries to go it alone, and get into the lighting business, it becomes very costly.
The amber lights above the new traffic light at the corner of Old San Carlos and Estero Boulevard are the Visionaire BLX, a light that is approved by FWC, which means it is turtle friendly. That light is not yet on the FPL approved list. It’s still going through FPL’s testing and the results may not be known until July.
It’s still unknown what the cost will be, even if the Visionaire BLX is approved by FPL, because it’s not known how many additional poles and fixtures would be needed and how much of that cost the town would have to absorb. Numbers being thrown around range from several hundred thousand dollars to several million.
There is no money in the current town budget for lights so this will most likely be taken up during the 2023 budget negotiations. Town Manager Roger Hernstadt said if the money cannot be found that rolls over into a potential tax increase.
On May 1st, when turtle season officially begins, 50 lights on Estero Boulevard will be turned off because they have the potential to disorient turtles.
And, let’s not forget, Estero Boulevard is a county road so they will need to be involved in whatever is decided