A project to bring more streetlights to Lehigh Acres has neighbors frustrated, confused and willing to lawyer up.
Some residents say that while they know some parts of Lehigh Acres really need lighting, their neighborhood has enough lights. They’re also upset they didn’t get any notice before the county and utility company started lighting up their corner lots. Plus, one neighbor says it looks like they’re trying to put it in her yard.
“You call FPL: ‘We’re just pulling the permit, you got to talk to the county,'” said Jennifer Brummer. “You talk to the county, it’s FPL’s decision of where they’re going. Nobody can give you a correct answer.”
Same for Patrick Yopp, who lives around the corner.
“They basically made me feel like I have no say in the matter at all,” Yopp said.
In January, Lee County wrapped up a project meant to light every bus stop in Lehigh Acres, around 400 lights total.
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Now they plan to light up more county-maintained intersections, roughly 3,700 lights, as a proactive measure in case new bus stops pop up. But there’s a problem.
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Brummer says she’s getting conflicting info: The county says the pole will go in the right of way, but the surveyor put markers indicating the pole will go in her yard at the base of her drain field. And the photo the county sent her of the plans isn’t what her yard looks like now.
“It’s probably five or six years old,” Brummer said. “It doesn’t depict the current landscape.”
She’s since removed the markers, as has Yopp on his property.
“I don’t understand why they can’t somehow figure out how to put a light on that pole, or on that pole over there,” Yopp said.
The county said in an email that it isn’t always possible. “Not every pole can be used for a light and existing poles aren’t [necessarily] located in the correct place for a light.”
For Brummer, that response doesn’t cut it.
“It just all comes down to, why are you spending the hard-earned tax dollars, when there’s existing poles?” Brummer said.
Both say their neighborhood is already lit up, and they’re afraid these poles will reduce their property value or worse. Brummer worries digging could jeopardize the sinkhole remediation done in her yard.
“I mean ideally they should’ve notified the homeowner,” Brummer said. “I could’ve presented them with all the engineering reports about the sinkhole remediation on my home. I mean that’s my biggest concern.”
Brummer says she doesn’t want the light at all, but if it doesn’t at least end up in the utility easement, she’s willing to call her lawyer. And Yopp just wants a say in the matter.
“I just hope somehow we can negotiate something and figure out a different way of adding the lights out where we’re all happy about it,” Yopp said.
The county says utilities typically don’t give advance notice because the installation is in the right of way or easement. When WINK News asked who decides where exactly the poles are placed, both FPL and the county indicated it was the other.
Statements via email from Lee County spokesperson Tim Engstrom:
Tuesday. Aug. 25
“The Lehigh Acres Streetlighting Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) is having a streetlight installed at every county-maintained intersection within its boundaries that does not currently have a light. FPL is installing approximately 1,300 lights and LCEC is installing approximately 2.400 lights (3,700 in total). The MSTU has spent approximately $812,000 YTD on new installations and is budgeted to spend an additional $680,000 before the end of the fiscal year.
“The MSTU selects the intersections, and then FPL/LCEC design how the light will be added (e.g. new pole(s), existing pole, precise placement of poles, routing of wires, transformer needs, etc.). All poles are installed in the Right of Way or a utility easement.”
Friday, Aug. 27
“All funds for these installations are from the MSTU’s ad-valorem based taxes on properties within the boundaries.
“All poles are installed either within the right-of-way or utility easements. Lee County requests the utility (FPL or LCEC) to install a light, they design the installation and invoice the County/MSTU, once the invoice is paid the utility gives the work to their construction group who then does the works themselves or contracts it out. We do not get notified of their installation schedules. Typically, the utilities do not give advance notice because the installation is in the ROW or in an easement.
“As most school bus stops are located at intersections, part of the goal of this project is to proactively ensure new bus stops have lights rather than reactively get lights added as new stops are assigned. All bus stops identified in 2019 as needing a light had a light installed by January 2020.”
Thursday, Sept. 3
“Regarding the location of the lights, the MSTU/Lee County identify the intersections to get a light and the contractor working for the utility pinpoints the suitable location at the intersection. It is not always possible to use existing poles for the lights. Not every pole can be used for a light and existing poles aren’t necessary located in the correct place for a light.”
Tuesday. Sept 15:
“If your viewers have questions about a streetlight pole in the MSTU, you can direct them here: leegov.com/budget/mstbu
Statement from FPL spokesperson Marie Bertot:
Friday, Aug. 27:
“We are installing these street lights at the direction of our customer, in this case Lee County representing MSTU. The customer (MSTU) informs FPL where they want the lights and what type of light they want us to install. We work collaboratively with our customer.”