A group of local amateur astronomers worry the new streetlights planned for the city make Gloucester too bright by night, a concern shared by a number of seniors.
In response, city officials are considering a different energy-efficient option before moving forward with the replacement of Gloucester’s estimated 2,800 streetlights.
Matt Coogan, senior planner within the city’s Department of Community Development, said that after hearing from a number of residents —- including Mario Motta, a local physician who is a member of the Gloucester Amateur Astronomy Club — he and other officials are considering light fixtures that burn at 3,000 degrees kelvin instead of the initial plan to install so-called 4000k lights across the city.
“We’ve been looking at a lot of data, and these (lights) are something very new,” Coogan said, “but it seems like government is catching up to the science, and we are looking at it.”
He and Jim Destino, the city’s chief of administration, both said the city is looking at the financial impact of any potential change.
Destino said the city borrowed $1 million in anticipation of the project, to be offset by more than $340,000 in state grants as well as rebates from National Grid. With energy savings through the new lighting projected at $130,000 a year, that means the city is tentatively set to have the project paid off in a little less than six years. A change in the light format might draw out the city’s return on in its investment.
“I say that because going to these (3000k lights) could be more costly,” he said, “but we’re checking on all of that.”
Destino and Coogan are working with the project contractor — Siemens Engineering — to juggle the cost and efficiencies of using the lower-emitting LED lights. LED is an acronym for “light emitting diode” lights, which do not require heating of a liquid filament and are seen as more efficient and longer lasting.
Coogan said city officials have heard from seniors who expressed concern over the brighter lights shining into their homes. He said his own research has found that using 4000k lights can pose other problems.
“There is a lot of science out now suggesting that’s bad — it’s bad for sleeping patterns, and that can disrupt both people and animals alike.”
Those sentiments are emphatically endorsed by Motta, whose West Gloucester home includes an observatory with a home-built 32-inch telescope. He and a core of 80 members of the Gloucester Amateur Astronomy Club meet weekly; the club has hundreds of other followers online.
Motta said that, by emitting blue light, the harsher 4000k lights the city is considering would pose significant problems for sky watching.
“It would be awful,” he said. “That lighting would ruin our skies. We have beautiful skies here, why ruin them?”
Yet he noted concerns far beyond that, saying that by switching from the 4000k to 3000k lighting throughout the city, Gloucester would be installing LED lighting that is far more efficient than the current systems yet easier on the eyes of residents and drivers.
“Many people think that, the brighter the lighting, the better,:” he said. “That’s not right,” he added, noting that brighter but harsher light can cause heavy contrast and shadows and make people shield their eyes, actually hurting vision.
“The whole purpose of light is to help us see better, and the proper measurement of the light is if it does make you see better,” he noted. “Most of the lights we use on the streets make you see worse.”
Coogan said that while the city is still mulling its options, the project shouldn’t be delayed. “Once we make a decision,” he said, “installation itself takes about a month — so we’re still on track for installation by late fall or early winter.
“But it’s good that we’ve gotten this input and feedback,” Coogan said. Our goal is just to be sure we get the best, most efficient — and the right — lighting for the community.”
Staff writer Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.