Street­light project de­layed, mil­lions over­bud­get

Blame NS Power’s record-keep­ing, says pub­lic works di­rec­tor.



light at the end of the tun­nel is cost­ing Hal­i­fax an ex­tra $8 mil­lion. The mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s bud­get for in­stalling en­ergy-ef­fi­cient LED street­lights has in­creased from $47 to $55 mil­lion—a re­sult of sev­eral op­er­a­tional de­lays in the mas­sive pub­lic works project.

Coun­cil ap­proved the in­crease as part of a yet-to-be-de­clas­si­fied staff re­port back in June. The Coast has not seen a copy of the re­port, but its con­tents have been con­firmed by city hall.

Ac­cord­ing to HRM man­ager Bruce Zvaniga, the ex­tra money is due to a higher-thanex­pected quan­tity of street­lights need­ing re­place­ment, new stan­dards for the safe sep­a­ra­tion of bulbs from power lines and to fix some faulty poles.

Those is­sues were un­known two years ago when work com­menced due to poor record­keep­ing from the elec­tric util­ity.

“Our knowl­edge from Nova Sco­tia Power... has proven that it wasn’t all that ac­cu­rate in a lot of cases,” says Zvaniga, the di­rec­tor of HRM’s Trans­porta­tion and Pub­lic Works de­part­ment. “So the con­trac­tor had to make ad­just­ments, and we had to work through how to make those ad­just­ments.”

Shoddy records meant crews were sent out with the wrong equip­ment to street­lights of dif­fer­ent heights, or that needed bulbs of a dif­fer­ent bright­ness, than what was listed in NS Power’s data­base. The mu­nic­i­pal­ity lost “about a month to two months” try­ing to fig­ure out how to solve the prob­lem.

“The records were cer­tainly not very good records, in terms of what we re­ceived from Nova Sco­tia Power,” says Zvaniga. “One of the side ben­e­fits of this whole project is it’s now very well-doc­u­mented. We know what’s on ev­ery poll; where ev­ery poll is; what the light­ing there is.”

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters was coun­cil’s di­rec­tion to lit­er­ally brighten the city. Un­der the new lights, Hal­i­fax’s over­all il­lu­mi­na­tion will be in­creased to match the stan­dards set by the En­gi­neers So­ci­ety of North Amer­ica. And that isn’t cheap.

“In a lot of cases, al­though there is a light there, it wasn’t bright enough,” Zvaniga says. “So the cost of the brighter ones was more than we an­tic­i­pated.”

The in­ten­sity of the new street­lights has al­ready caused com­plaints from those try­ing to sleep un­der their bluish-white glare. Zvaniga in­sists it’s the colour and not the bright­ness that’s im­pact­ing peo­ple’s sero­tonin. Short of swap­ping out all the bulbs again, that’s im­pos­si­ble to change. But HRM will be able to dim lights at the re­quest of sleep­less res­i­dents once the sys­tem is fully on­line early next year.

The mu­nic­i­pal­ity pur­chased Nova Sco­tia Power’s street­lights and took over the re­spon­si­bil­ity for road­way light­ing ser­vice across HRM back in 2014. The fol­low­ing year, New­found­land and Labrador com­pany G.J. Cahill was awarded the multi-mil­lion dol­lar con­tract to re­place all 37,000 street­lights with LEDs.

In May, Cahill in­formed HRM it would be switch­ing its bulb sup­plier from the Amher­st­based LED Road­way Light­ing to Amer­i­can com­peti­tor Holo­phane. A few weeks later, LED—which has been the re­cip­i­ent of some $22 mil­lion in gov­ern­ment in­vest­ment for its op­er­a­tions—an­nounced it would be per­ma­nently elim­i­nat­ing 45 jobs in an ef­fort to re­main com­pet­i­tive on the global mar­ket. Just as quickly, and without ex­pla­na­tion, Cahill went back to LED.

Zvaniga says he’s un­aware of what caused the flip-flop in sub-con­trac­tors. Pro­vided the sup­plier meets the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s re­quire­ment, HRM doesn’t get a say in where Cahill buys its bulbs.

“I would say their be­hav­iour is sim­i­lar to what I’ve seen in other con­tracts,” says Zvaniga. “I’d ex­pect they were hav­ing chal­lenges with in­ven­tory man­age­ment.”

Chuck Cart­mill, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at LED, is also at a loss to ex­plain the quick swap.

“I re­ally do not know why this bit of the busi­ness was given to a com­peti­tor as we did not move on our prices to the con­trac­tor and I do not be­lieve any­one from the city was in­volved,” he says via email.

Cart­mill notes both HRM and Cahill are great sup­port­ers of LED, and the switch likely “had more to do with re­la­tion­ships and spread­ing some busi­ness around” to other sup­pli­ers.

“At times, our LED lights may not be the low­est up-front cost prod­uct and must be dif­fer­en­ti­ated through the best in­dus­try life­cy­cle cost­ing,” Cart­mill says, “and our peo­ple must con­tin­u­ally demon­strate this to clients and all stake­hold­ers, which we some­times fail to do and so we share in re­spon­si­bil­ity when things like this hap­pen.”

Cahill’s con­tract with HRM eats up the lion’s share—about $37 mil­lion—of the orig­i­nal $47-mil­lion project bud­get. Those costs are ex­pected to be earned back over the next two decades through re­duc­tion in main­te­nance work and en­ergy sav­ings. The LED lights, which use 60 per­cent less en­ergy, will save HRM nearly $5 mil­lion a year.

The ne bud­get will still be re­couped from those sav­ings, prom­ises Zvaniga. Just not as quickly as orig­i­nally an­tic­i­pated. The province has set a dead­line of 2022 to re­place all of its old street­lights with LED bulbs.

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