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Monument lights plan questioned

By Staff | Jun 25, 2010

Rumsey Monument Photo by Rick Caruso

A proposal to illuminate the Rumsey Monument during certain hours of the evening was slated to go before the Parks and Recreation Committee on Thursday evening.

Before the meeting, a handful residents took the time to file their opinion on the proposal via e-mails to Town Hall.

Local officials had solicited public comment on the lighting of the monument in an article published in the Chronicle on June 11.

Many North Mill Street residents are closely following this story. At least three residents have written Town Hall to oppose the plan, citing security and environmental concerns. At least two have written in favor of the project.

Neighbors voice concerns

Rana Harmon, an 18-year North Mill Street resident, wrote Town Hall to voice her opposition to the plan. Her e-mail contends that the lights will draw more visitors to the park after dusk. Harmon, who lives near the park, predicts that this will only lengthen the lingering time of vistors to well after midnight. She has enjoyed recent volunteer efforts to improve the park.

“Although the Police Department does its best to patrol the park when officers are available, there are too many hiding places for nighttime visitors,” writes Harmon. “Last year, there were several episodes of intruders on our property … Items from our garage, which is right next to the park entrance, were stolen.”

Harmon also pointed out the danger of increased nighttime activity at the cliffside park as a “serious liability issue for the town,” should a nocturnal visitor fall off the nearly 100-foot cliffs.

In an interview at her parkside house on Wednesday, Harmon reiterated that her central concern was security at the park. “I like the events that Rotary has held, and it does seem like the mayor and the others really believe that lighting could make the area safer, but on a gut level it doesn’t check out for me.”

Mark Wirt, a six-year Mill Street resident who lives near the park, was also present at Harmon’s house during Wednesday’s interview. He understands that people see the illumination of the monument as a way to advertise Shepherdstown.

“It’s much more aesthetically pleasing than a billboard, but that’s essentially what it is,” said Wirt. “Let’s face it, the only place it’ll be seen is for about 10 seconds as you cross the bridge . . . People who are crossing the bridge in Shepherdstown aren’t going to say ‘hey there’s this little town here we didn’t know about.’ There’s not really a direct benefit to the town, but the detriments are well documented.”

What about migratory birds?

Among detriments opponents of the plan list is the effect the lights will have on migratory birds.

Karin Field-Smith suggested that the monument be illuminated with “very targeted lighting” to reduce casting stray light into the atmosphere.

“The light pollution around Shepherdstown is intense for such a rural area,” writes Field-Smith. “The lights from NCTC seem to light the sky instead of just the parking lot, and lights on the new bridge are very poorly designed, shedding more light to the sky than the roadway.”

Unable to attend Tuesday’s Parks and Recreation meeting, Steamboat Run resident Nancy Kirshbaum wrote Town Hall in opposition of the plan to light the Rumsey Monument on the basis that it could lead migratory birds astray.

“Tall lighted structures cause the death of many birds each year. The fact that the monument is along the river, where it is often foggy, makes the potential harm even greater.” writes Kirshbaum, who also included in her email an excerpt from the American Bird Conservancy’s website on the dangers of the intrusion of light into migratory bird flyways.

“My objection has to do with the dangers which lights at night pose to the birds,” said Kirshbaum in a phone interview on Monday, “I think a lot of people aren’t aware that many migratory birds often fly at night.”

Kirschbaum’s e-mail also asserted that “the energy use required is not acceptable, considering the planet’s already dire environmental problems.”

Rotary Club: It promotes W.Va.

Shepherdstown Rotary Club member Hank Walter dispatched an e-mail to Town Hall that projected annual electric consumption to be minimal, using 1,296 kilowatt-hours per year for an annual cost of $125. He writes that his numbers were verified by a member of the Allegheny Power accounts department, a detail confirmed by Allegheny Power spokesman Mark Nitowski, who qualified the numbers as a rough estimate. Walter headed up a demonstration lighting of the monument during Rotary’s 2009 Labor Day activites at the park.

Walter’s e-mail stated that there would be three 400 watt lamps, wired to automatic switches set to turn on at dusk and off at 10 p.m., consuming a total of 1.2 Kilowatts per hour, activated for an average of three hours per day over an entire year. Using Allegheney Power’s current electric rates, he calculated a monthly expense of close to $10.50.

“The monument being lit during the evening hours will make the drive across the W.Va. 480 bridge become the most attractive portal to the State of West Virginia,” writes Walter. “They say you only get one chance to make a first impression; let’s not miss our chance this time. Light the monument, please.”