The city of Helena recently expressed concern that the LED streetlights did not meet a 2000 ordinance setting parameters for light trespass and dark skies compliance.
On Thursday, NorthWestern Energy spokesperson Jo Dee Black said the utility company will suspend the project until the questions are resolved.
"NorthWestern Energy plans to continue the retrofit process in other areas of Montana over the next four years," Black said.
Nearly 400 of Helena's 3,400 high-pressure sodium lights have been replaced by NorthWestern. The utility will continue to replace some 43,000 lights around Montana over the next four years.
At Wednesday's city commission meeting, Commissioner Andres Haladay told NorthWestern he was displeased with how the utility was dealing with the city's concerns.
"It's bad customer service," Haladay said of NorthWestern's roll-out of the LED lights throughout Helena.
The city has received consistent complaints about the lights being too bright and shining into people's homes. Beyond that, the city's concerns revolve around a dark skies ordinance passed in 2000, which says that if a noncompliant light fixture is replaced, the fixture must then comply with the city's ordinance.
In a letter to the city, NorthWestern Energy said its interpretation of a "fixture" was the entire streetlight, including the pole, arm, head and other various pieces. Because of this, the utility said replacing just a high-pressure sodium light with an LED light would not require strict compliance with the city's dark skies ordinance.
The city does not agree with that definition, but said even if just the head of the streetlight is replaced, then the entire fixture needs to be in compliance with the ordinance.
[We`re determining that a fixture is a switch out of a high sodium head to a cobra LED head, in this case?" commissioner Haladay asked during the meeting.
[My concern is to do otherwise is to defeat the purpose of the ordinance," City Attorney Thomas Jodoin replied.
Mayor Wilmot Collins asked the utility how it planned to solve the issues surrounding the city's ordinance and the light roll-out. www.ledlightinside.com
Rick Edwards, the director of community connections for NorthWestern, said the utility planned to be "proactive" in addressing the issues the city of Helena had brought forward.
On Thursday, Haladay said NorthWestern had been receptive to discussion.
"NorthWestern told us their goal is to ensure all the lights that go in, if they can, are going to comply with the code," Haladay said. www.ledlightinside.com
Haladay said he believed NorthWestern was being aggressive in responding to the city's concerns and is considering shielding options for the new LED lights.
Black said NorthWestern is "hopeful" the questions in Helena will be resolved.
"Once that is accomplished, then the timeline to continue the project in Helena can be established," Black said.
Helena City Manager Ana Cortez said the city appreciates NorthWestern's decision.
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