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Committee again delays vote to illuminate monument

By Staff | Aug 27, 2010

Whether to illuminate the Rumsey Monument, seen above, remains undecided, as a vote on the issue again was delayed. (Submitted photo)

SHEPHERDSTOWN – A vote on a proposal to illuminate the Rumsey Monument has been delayed once again by Shepherdstown’s Parks and Recreation Committee.

This is the second time that the Parks and Recreation Committee has failed to make a final decision on the controversial plan to light up the monument in James Rumsey Park off North Mill Street.

If the Parks and Recreation Committee eventually passes the proposal, it would then go before Town Council for a final vote.

The idea to illuminate the monument originated with the membership of Shepherdstown’s Rotary Club. During the 2009 Labor Day festivities at Rumsey Park, during which the Rotary Club of Shepherdstown lit the monument with a generator and a bank of mobile construction floodlights.

Since January 2009 the Shepherdstown Rotary Club has been at the forefront of an effort to improve and revitalize Rumsey Park.

The club’s efforts to improve the park are part of a broader effort underway by a coalition of government and local business groups to develop an interconnected park system along Shepherdstown’s Potomac waterfront, linking hikers and bikers on the C&O Canal with Shepherdstown’s green spaces.

Rotarian Hank Walter headed last year’s effort to illuminate the monument with the goal of generating feedback from the community. He said that feedback was mostly positive, though officials with Shepherd University expressed concern that nighttime illumination of the monument could generate light pollution that could interfere with the operations of the University Observatory, located atop the Byrd Center for Legislative Studies on King Street.

To overcome the astronomical concern, Walter said that any lighting system installed at the monument would be rigged to a timer, shutting off the lights around 10 or 11 p.m., in addition to having the ability to be turned off by request.

Proponents of the plan also have said that it could cut down on instances of vandalism at the park.

Opponents of the plan, many of them residents of nearby North Mill Street, have disputed that claim. They also assert that the nighttime illumination of the monument could contribute to light pollution and interfere with migratory bird pathways.

Rana Harmon, an 18-year resident of North Mill Street, 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 time of visitors linger at the park 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 night-time visitors,” Harmon wrote. “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 the Parks and Recreation Committee’s June meeting, members tabled a decision on the proposal until their next meeting to seek more comment from the public. The June decision to table the proposal carried a caveat, asking that an up-or-down vote on the matter be made at their next meeting. The Parks and Recreation Committee did not meet in July because of scheduling conflicts.

“We have to poo or get off the pot,” said Parks and Recreation Committee member David Miljour during the June meeting.

His comments were underscored by committee member John Meeker, who lives near Rumsey Park.

He feared that if the committee did not act on the matter quickly, suspicion could develop among the public that the government was weathering criticism of the proposal only to pass it when media attention had died down.