By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — Last night members of the City Council expressed dismay at how long it has taken for the city to begin installing lights in downtown alleyways. They said it’s been almost two years since the issue came before the council and urged the mayor’s office to get the project moving.
“It’s a quality of life issue and it should not be a boondoggle,” Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien told David Van Dam, the mayor’s chief of staff. “It’s going to be two years next month.”
At Daly O’Brien’s request, Van Dam came before the council last night to explain why the project has been delayed.
Last year, councilors, led by Daly O’Brien, said downtown alleys should be lit, especially since the city enacted paid parking on downtown’s primary streets the year before and began encouraging people to park further from the city center where parking is free.
At the time, councilors had been asking Mayor James Fiorentini to get the lights installed for almost a year.
Van Dam told the council last night that the process was more complicated than originally thought but that the first set of lights are expected to be installed in a few weeks in an alley next to the Barking Dog Ale House on Washington Street.
Van Dam explained that the project is a partnership between the city and downtown building owners and that easement agreements are needed before lighting can installed.
The city expected to see lights installed last summer, but Van Dam said there were unforeseen delays, mostly having to do with convincing building owners of the benefits of lighted alleyways between their buildings. He said a study by a consultant as to the best locations and types of lighting also took time as various factors had to be considered, such as lights that might be too close to downtown residents’ windows.
Daly O’Brien expressed frustration at how long it has taken and also with building owners. She told Van Dam that she wanted to see several or more alleyways illuminated by this summer and told him that he deserved more cooperation in his efforts.
“Having lights will be much safer than darkness and broken glass,” she said.
Van Dam said the first set of lights are expected to be installed in an alleyway between 53 Wingate St. and 77 to 81 Washington St. He said he hoped to finalize agreements for a total of seven downtown alleyways and that they mayor has already approved funding for lighting, but it must be used by June 30.
“I think you’ll see something illuminated downtown in a few weeks and I think it will be contagious,” Van Dam said, suggesting that other building owners will recognize the benefit of having their alleyways illuminated as well.
Daly O’Brien kept reminding Van Dam that “It’s been two years.”
“It’s unrealistic not to have lights,” she said.
Other councilors expressed their desire for lighted alleyways, including Councilor William Ryan, who suggested that lighting in alleys be a requirement of the downtown Historic District. He called the downtown “The face of Haverhill.”
“We’ve invested a lot in the Historic District,” Ryan said while urging the city to have lights installed before the summer tourist season.
“We need to get down there and get this done,” Ryan said. “We have to have lighting down there and make it safe.”
Councilor Michael McGonagle said the project needs to move forward and that currently dark alleyways attract dog owners who do not pick up after their pets and also serve as dumping grounds for trash and broken bottles that are a safety hazard.
“We need to get this moving,” McGonagle said.