A New Approach to Replacing Dangerous Park Lights

At the April 5th Portland City Council session, the Mayor and all four Commissioners approved an amended contract with McKinstry Essention for energy savings performance contracting services, including funding for new park lights. This update halts the removal of older lamp posts that inspectors deemed hazardous earlier this year. Starting February 22nd, Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) began removing dangerous light poles in twelve City parks without funding to replace the majority of lights. Six of the seventeen light poles at Montavilla Park have structural anchoring issues that make them potentially unsafe. Those units were slated for removal, and the dimly lit park would close at 10 p.m. for safety. However, the nearly 100-year-old light poles will remain in place until replacement units are purchased, minimizing the impact of this work on parkgoers.

Although many residents and community groups appreciate the pivot by PP&R, testifiers at City Council expressed further concern over the lack of public involvement. Several residents spoke about the need for historic design consideration when replacing lights, as Mt. Tabor Park is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Dan Ryan, the Commissioner in charge of PP&R, said that Portland’s Historic Landmarks Commission would review the light poles’ design. However, one member of the public, speaking on the record, noted that Historic Landmarks Commission review does not replace the public’s participation in light pole selection. Commissioner Ryan indicated that he would have PP&R staff engage in public conversations on this issue at an unspecified future date.

Slide from Heather Flint Chatto Director of Portland Main Streets Design Initiative testimony

Another Portland City Council testifier echoed the public engagement concerns and added a request to consider lighting effects on wildlife, noting that some light-emitting diodes (LED) can negatively affect animals. The same person also expressed community interest in retaining the removed lights for historical preservation instead of selling or donating them. Commissioner Ryan assured the public that this emergency work is evolving, and he intends to protect the public by replacing the failing poles while maintaining adequate park lighting.

Slide from Heather Flint Chatto Director of Portland Main Streets Design Initiative testimony

Although Montavilla Park and adjacent parks retained all light poles, crews had already removed dangerous units at Irving Park, Mt. Scott Park, Sellwood Park, and Sellwood Riverfront Park. Once the new light poles are available, PP&R will replace light poles in those four parks first. Until then, the City will explore temporary lighting options. After crews restore light poles in those four parks, the bureau will announce plans for removal and quick replacement of light poles in other affected parks, including Montavilla Park. Light pole fabrication will take six months, and design review could slow down that process. However, this new slower plan will prevent more parks from going dark and ensure a solution that maintains nighttime visibility in Portland’s natural areas.

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