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L.E.D. Streetlights Delayed, Councilman Left In The Dark?

At the tail end of an already testy April 3rd City Council meeting. Ward 4 Councilman Brian Faria questioned the progress of the LED streetlight initiative that he had championed.

On October 17th of last year, the City Council approved a resolution, sponsored by Faria, to purchase the current streetlights from National Grid and upgrade them to energy saving LEDs, which would be more energy efficient and cheaper to operate.

Faria and other city officials met with National Grid representatives on January 2nd, two and a half months after the resolution, however they were unable to reach a deal with National Grid on the purchase of the current lights. National Grid is demanding $300,000 for the lights, significantly more than other communities, some of which had more lights than East Providence. "It didn't align with the other municipalities that I went out and I inquired with." Faria stated "I met with the DPW in Cranston, they paid $4,400 for I believe it was 9,800 lights, we have just about 5,000. I was told by Mr. Lombardi in North Providence that he paid a dollar for almost 4,000 lights."

Ward 4 Councilman Brian Faria

Faria engaged the local television news media back in mid-February regarding what he feels is the failure of National Grid to comply with the state Municipal Streetlights Investment Act (MSIA), which requires the cost of streetlights to be based on net book value. He had stated, based on assurances from then City Manager Timothy Chapman, that the city would be filing a petition with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that month.

Faria's bone of contention this past Tuesday however was not with National Grid but with the city's Law Department, which he says has failed to deliver on the petition. Faria noted various communications between himself and Mr. Chapman as well as Solicitor Greg Dias and Assistant Solicitor Dylan Conley through February and March. "It's not fair to the taxpayers, we could have already had a decision back" Faria stated, noticeably agitated.

The petition had been promised by Mr. Chapman in January, then by February 16th, according to Faria. At the March 6th Council meeting, Faria asked if the petition would be done by the end of the week, Dias responded "I'll contact Dylan Conley and get a date for you, yes." Faria has had the item on the City Council docket every meeting for months. On Tuesday, Faria exasperatedly stated "I'm trying to be patient, I'm trying to be a team player."

City Solicitor Gregory Dias

Dias noted that there were several legal matters that came up such as firefighter grievances that delayed the petition. Stating is it 95% completed in draft form. "There are other matters that the legal department does, it doesn't just do this petition" Dias retorted.

Faria then inquired of the new Acting City Manager Malcolm Moore what his opinion is to move forward, including the possibility of purchasing the streetlights at National Grid's price of $300,000 and then seeking legal remedy later. "It's a numbers game" Moore responded "If you are going to have to pay $300 [thousand] and you are going to save 600 [thousand] annually, so at the end of the first year, you would have netted $300,000, if you wait 6 months and pay zero, you are still going to make $300,000, so if you think it's going to be 6 months out, your better off going to bite the bullet now"

Acting City Manager Malcolm Moore

Moore took on the challenge to "sit down with them [National Grid] and see if we cane come to a resolution and bring it back to the Council." When Faria asked Dias if there will be a petition, he said he would be meeting with Mr. Moore and Mr. Conley on Thursday. Faria reiterated that he was promised, including in public by the previous City Manager, a petition on February 16th. "It's all in writing... I don't think you're in a position to argue with me."

This is not the first time that the Law Department and  Assistant Solicitor Conley, has been in the hot seat regarding timing. Back on November 7th, Ward 3 Councilwoman Anna Sousa demanded answers from Conley regarding the renewable energy project and net metering credits that the city was exploring. Conley stated that the Law Department could not determine the lowest bidder for the project. Sousa criticized that the "project seems to be going backwards" Conley had blamed the city's consultant Julian Dash. After a round robin of Conley and Dash blaming each other, Sousa remarked tersely "this is not funny." Regulations and rates have changed and the city will no longer see as much savings is it would have had it acted expeditiously.

The Council passed a motion to proceed with the petition 5-0 in case it is still needed, meanwhile the City Manager will work on a possible agreement with National Grid. Faria, when asked for comment stated "It is very sad I had to place this on the agenda, this time for a council vote, just to get this petition finalized"