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Burnt Store Road streetlights ‘too invasive,’ neighbors beg Lee County to adopt new standards

Neighbors along Burnt Store Road in Cape Coral are fed up with streetlights.

Lee County finished installing new lights on the hurricane evacuation route back in February, but people living nearby say they’re too bright and could cause more issues long-term. While they agree that better lighting in the area was necessary for safety reasons, the problem is how the county did it.

An effort to get the county to replace or change the lights on Burnt Store Road has garnered 570 petition signatures.

This month, commissioners approved another effort to replace old lights countywide, which would take three years and an estimated $1.3 million. Neighbors are concerned more bright lights will move in.

Neighbor Tom Howard has put up quite the fight when it comes to the streetlights.

“There’s 200 pages of scientific evidence right here,” he said, talking about available research he compiled.

He says should have prevented him from seeing his backyard lit up at night from the bright lights that line Burnt Store Road.

“All these people on Burnt Store Road, who are facing west especially, it’s coming right into their lanais. And it’s like living in a prison yard or a Costco parking lot. It’s just too invasive.”

Howard and many of his neighbors are frustrated by the brightness.

“It’s like daylight in my bedroom,” said Cheryl Howard.

“The lights bother me at night, and my circadian rhythm is totally screwed up. Night is day,” said Michael Sung.

“I have to actually turn away from the window to be able to sleep, it’s so bright,” said Pat Morales.

“When you overdo the lights, it becomes a negative effect,” said Pasha Donaldson with Friends of Cape Coral Wildlife.

They want lights on the road, but their problem is with the intensity. The energy-efficient 4000° Kelvin LEDs emit blue light, which the American Medical Association says can cause worse nighttime glare for drivers, disrupt people’s sleep and disorient wildlife.

Donaldson said that while neighbors might be able to draw their curtains at night, the critters nearby can’t.

“Bright lights, it interrupts migration patterns,” she said.

Charles Acres and his wife live next to Burnt Store, but the lights don’t bother them.

“We’re not affected like that. But we are affected with the intersection of that portion of the street being lit substantially, so it helps to slow drivers that are maybe going a little too fast,” Acres said.

He also knows the road has a history.

“We had a kid who was hit by a car. And after that kid got hit by a car, the officer wrote in his police report it’s not the driver’s fault, it’s just too dark out here. So we had to do something,” said Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman.

The county started installing the lights the following September.

Hamman said they got great reviews, but after hearing complaints that the lights were too bright, they lowered the intensity.

“From 100% down to 60%. And we’re doing a test with the shields that actually will block the light from going onto peoples’ properties,” Hamman said.

Howard said they’re not done.

“It’s not the ultimate solution, but it’s a solution. But they only did it for 52 out of 132 lights,” Howard said.

The county said if they decide to move forward with the shields, they would take roughly three months to order and install.

“They completely destroyed our view and our horizons and it didn’t need to be that way,” Howard said.

He feels the county needs better, more environmentally-friendly standards, and their fixes aren’t enough. He and his neighbors want Lee County to adopt standards like Collier County, which began adopting guidelines from the International Dark Sky Association countywide in 2017.

Hamman says they followed Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) standards for the Burnt Store Road lights, which lists one requirement as “a maximum correlated color temperature (CCT) of 4000°K.”

But Lee County Department of Transportation Director Randy Cerchie said in a statement, “it’s not a requirement for Lee DOT to use FDOT-tested products. However, Lee County follows FDOT specifications for county roadway jobs because it is best for taxpayers and for safety. The county – like many local governments – does not have its own material testing labs. Using FDOT guidelines and specs means value for taxpayers and safety for motorists. They’re vetted and they’re proven statewide.”

Technically, FDOT standards are only required for state and federal roadways.

Reporter:Sara Girard
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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