Lititz emerges from the ‘Dark Ages’

By on December 10, 2014

PPL should have Main Street lights fixed by Thursday

Downtown pedestrians have been in the dark since Thanksgiving, and borough officials were unable to shed much light on what has become a much-talked about public safety dilemma.

PPL workers diagnose the street light problem in the first block of East Main. The lights have been out since Thanksgiving, but everything should be back in working order this week. (Photo by Stan Hall)

PPL workers diagnose the street light problem in the first block
of East Main. The lights have been out since Thanksgiving, but
everything should be back in working order this week. (Photo by Stan Hall)

“Unfortunately, we’re at the mercy of PPL,” said frustrated Police Chief William Seace.

The borough’s entire system of street lights, hundreds of them, are owned and maintained by PPL.

When every light in the first block of East Main went dark the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Lititz’s public works department called PPL the following day. Ten days later, the lights were still off. Chief Seace said PPL workers were on the scene times a couple times, to no avail. The chief concern during this unprecedented delay is public safety.

“It’s a big concern,” he said, “and I’m upset about it.”

Darkened streets during rush hour traffic while pedestrians are Christmas shopping or meeting friends for dinner out on the town is a recipe for tragedy, he fears. After nearly a week of no light and no answers, he has questions about the electric company’s priorities.

“PPL has been here and they’re (the lights) still out. I just don’t understand that,” he said.

Sue Barry, Lititz’s business manager, said the borough office has been bombarded with emails and phone calls from residents wondering what’s going on and why it’s taking so long to fix.

“We’re frustrated,” she said. “We’re all frustrated.”

She said reaching PPL contacts has been difficult, but she finally heard from someone late Friday morning, nine days after the problem was first reported.LR20141211_Cppl27

She was told that PPL sent a troubleshooting crew to the site Dec. 3, but they could not diagnose the issue. Reportedly, this crew never reported the diagnostic failure and the darkness continued, unaddressed.

By Friday, the borough was assured that an “underground crew” would be dispatched to the borough as soon as possible.

Barry shared the chief’s concern about public safety, adding that she’s heard reports that some people are even asking downtown retailers for flashlights.

Heading into the weekend, the borough, a $180,000 per year PPL customer, remained in limbo.

The borough looked into buying the street lights from PPL about five years ago, but it would have been an all-or-nothing deal, the entire system for more than $1 million. That plus the cost of maintaining the system wasn’t financially feasible.

“We should have initially done a better job of reporting the status of our work,” said PPL spokesperson Jessica Long. She said bad weather, the holiday and emergencies in other areas pulled PPL’s attention away from Lititz, but crews were busy on the scene Monday and Tuesday. By late afternoon, there was some light at the end of the Main Street tunnel.

“Our crews were able to fully diagnose and start fixing the problem with the street lights today,” she reported Tuesday. “We found two different spots where the underground cables went bad. This caused too much voltage to travel to some of the lights, causing those lights to burn out. We’re continuing to work on replacing and repairing the underground cables today. The replacement lights are set to arrive tomorrow, and we expect to have all street lights installed and working by Thursday or before.”

She added that the problem turned out to be much more complicated than first expected, and that winter months are a busy time for PPL crews.

The situation could be a topic of discussion at borough council’s regular business meeting later this month.

“This was an unusual occurrence, or at least unusual until about two weeks ago,” said Council President Karen Weibel. “I understand there have been issues on North Broad as well. I think first I’d like a meeting with PPL to find out where this situation went awry.”

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