A plan for the city of Missoula to save energy and cut carbon emissions was aired Wednesday – at the same meeting Missoula City councilors heard a proposal to illuminate bridges.
“I think it’s pretty ironic that the meeting right before, we were talking about energy savings, and now, we’re talking about lighting a bridge up,” said Councilman Jon Wilkins, who also noted his mind remains open.
The Conservation Committee didn’t take action on the bridge lighting project, but members of the public raised objections to the possible intrusion of lights in the natural river setting, and councilors posed questions. Councilman Dave Strohmaier, who chairs the committee, said he doesn’t want the group to vote on the pending memorandum of understanding between the city and the Light Our Bridges Missoula group until schematics are available.
Last fall, a group of travelers who had seen lit bridges in Portugal announced they wanted to light bridges in Missoula, too. On Wednesday, Dan Lambros and Ellen Buchanan talked with councilors about the idea on behalf of Light Our Bridges Missoula.
Lambros and Buchanan presented a proposal to light up the Van Buren pedestrian bridge and the Madison Street pedestrian underbridge to beautify them and also increase safety. According to a rough estimate from Light Our Bridges, the total cost would be $200,000; the group already has raised $60,000.
“We DO NOT intend to ask for any public money to light these two bridges,” reads a line from the brochure in red letters. The draft agreement states the group “desires” to raise funds “without the use of public money.”
The Parks and Recreation Department would maintain the lighting once it’s installed, according to the agreement. Buchanan said the Madison bridge is currently lit, and she estimated new lights would actually save the city money and energy.
The proposal raised concerns among some councilors and members of the public. The draft contract mentions the Madison and Van Buren bridges, but the group has discussed illuminating other bridges in Missoula, too.
The agreement also makes note of colorful, patterned lights, and Wilkins said he isn’t sure he wants to see “dancing lights” unless maybe it’s Christmas. Strohmaier wants to be sure to hear from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks on impacts to aquatic life.
“Any lighting of the stream is certainly a concern for me in that regard,” Strohmaier said.
Councilman Jason Wiener, though, said he believes a good design can take care of concerns about wildlife and energy, and he didn’t run for council to take up the aesthetic question. He also praised Lambros and the group for having some imagination and taking action.
“I really appreciate that sort of initiative wherever I see it,” Wiener said.
The contract includes a possibility the lights would bring the city dollars, and this idea chafed some members of the public: “If the lighting design allows for colors and/or patterns to be customized, there will be the opportunity to generate revenue through such customization.”
The dollars for lights was among citizen activist Ross Best’s concerns. Best, a frequent pedestrian who often walks across the bridges, said he doesn’t want to watch a sunset from a bridge on the east end of town and have lights on the other bridges pollute his view. He wants lights to be functional and unobtrusive.
“I don’t want to see the commercialization that pervades our culture extending to the river,” said Best, who strongly objected to the proposal.
Others cautioned the city to look carefully at projected energy use from lighting all the bridges, especially because the city aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
At its meeting, the committee also heard the high points of the city’s Conservation and Climate Action Plan. The overall goal is for the city to become carbon neutral in 2025 with changes to its policies and practices, fleets and buildings, and renewable energy use and offsets.
The plan likely will be before the full council for a public hearing on Monday, Jan. 28.