Bee Investigator: Light and dark and a smelly update

04/13/2014 6:10 PM

04/13/2014 8:40 PM

Christians will celebrate the darkness of Good Friday and Catholics will light the “new fire” during Easter Vigil services, so it’s appropriate that we tackle darkness and light this week. And in keeping with the holiday theme – because I always lost track of hidden Easter eggs when my kids were young and found them after they began to stink a week or two later (the eggs, not the kids) – I’ll throw in a little “rotten eggs” stinky update as well.

Let’s start with the update; it’s short.

A few weeks ago, a reader wanted to know why an intersection in south Modesto always smelled like rotten eggs, or sulfur. Laura Anhalt, Modesto’s wastewater treatment plant manager, had told me the sulfur odor is common to the sewer system throughout Modesto, and said it sometimes can be evidence of a problem with a manhole cover or a blockage in the system.

She called me March 31, the day the column appeared, to report that her crew had gone to check on the odor at Hatch and Ustick roads. Turns out, the manhole cover was missing!

The crew replaced it, which should help reduce the stinky smell, she said.

Then I had an email from Vanessa Czopek, who retired last month as director of the Stanislaus County Library. She had been in contact with the city to report that a light in the library’s parking lot was out and needed to be replaced. The city did that in a short time.

But she also had let the city traffic department know that several lights on the Ninth Street bridge were burned out. When she sent a note of thanks for replacing the bulb in the library parking lot, she pointed out that the bridge lights were still dark.

Jeff Barnes, Modesto’s traffic engineer, told Czopek that the bridge lights had been vandalized. “We have decided to keep only half of the lights in service due to resource limitations,” he said.

“This seems to be a strange policy, to allow lights to remain out in a high-crime area,” she said in a note to me. “Do they do this in other areas of town, too?”

I asked Barnes if the lights were back on, if the city has other high-crime areas where lights are half dark and whether the city had a plan, or money, to get them on again. Here’s what he said:

“Yes, the Ninth Street bridge lights are half on and half off as a result of vandalism. The lighting level has been checked, and it appears to be adequate. The lights on the bridge have been added to our streetlights to-be-repaired list with 163 other locations currently needing repairs.”

He said the bridge lights “have a lower priority compared with lights in front of homes and businesses,” that they would take a large amount of staff time to repair, and that the repairs will be expensive.

“Vandalism is a big problem,” he said, with such repair costs ranging from $20,000 to $80,000 per year. The city is securing the “pull boxes and handholds” on the light poles to cut vandalism but that, of course, makes it harder for the city to access them to make repairs when needed, he said.

Barnes said in fiscal year 2012-13, his staff repaired 2,155 streetlights at a cost of $209,342. That figure includes wire theft and vandalism repairs. “So the typical vandalism expense can range from 10 percent to 40 percent of the available resources in a given year,” he said.

This isn’t even the department’s biggest headache; it’s second on the list.

“Our biggest headache is maintaining old, outdated, high-voltage streetlight circuits in Modesto,” he said. “Modesto has 34 high-voltage streetlight circuits that need to be replaced, ranging in age from 40 to 60-plus years old. Funding to upgrade these 735 high-voltage streetlights is currently not available. The estimated cost to upgrade the high-voltage streetlights is $4 million to $8 million.”

Yeah. A lot of money. I think we’ll give the city a pass this week on lighting only half of the Ninth Street bridge lights. And who knows? Maybe some businessman will start an “adopt a high-voltage streetlight” program to replace those old lights. Let’s see, that would be between $5,500 and $10,900 per light. Sure sounds better than millions, doesn’t it?

Maybe the Love Modesto folks could get a team to replace one next year. They are doing so much good for our communities, why not this? Let’s see, $5,500 divided by 4,000 incredible volunteers equals only $1.38. Could be a start.

Editor's Choice Videos

Join the Discussion

The Modesto Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service