Published: August 24, 2011
You remember the Depression — a cataclysmic economic event that supposedly taught us that sound economic policy requires an adequate social safety net that allows us all to survive hard times. Hard times like we are seeing now. Times in which we are watching that safety net be systematically unraveled.
Most of us are familiar with the kind of belt-tightening that occurs when the electric bill arrives and we're shocked by how high it is. Maybe we cut back on the air conditioning or go out and buy energy-efficient light bulbs.
We don't, however, do anything foolish that might endanger our family. For example, we wouldn't remove nighttime security lights or disable burglar alarms. Who would be that foolish?
Which brings us to the city of Highland Park, and its so-called "lighting improvement project," which began Aug. 1.
We know about this because HP resident Paul Lee e-mailed us a YouTube link showing contractors quickly and efficiently removing streetlights from in front of his home.
Lee also sent along a DTE Energy flier one of those contractors handed him when asked what, exactly, was going on.
Listing four bullet points, the announcement starts off saying that DTE will be "upgrading" HP's community streetlights with "new, energy-efficient lighting." The new lights are needed, it is explained, because the city currently has "less efficient streetlights that were prone to long outages and costly to operate."
The new lights will both lower the city's monthly energy bills and offer higher reliability.
Then came the point that really caught Lee's eye: "The new street lights will be installed on street corners throughout Highland Park."
At which point Lee asked about the lights being removed that aren't at corners. You know, lights along streets where people live. Were they being replaced as well?
The answer, Lee learned, is no. Even the contractor seemed embarrassed. The guy just "drooped his head and said, 'Man, I'm just doing my job.'"
"This is creating a lot of anxiety," Lee says.
We put in calls to Mayor Hubert Yopp, whose number is listed on the flier as the place to go for people who have questions. Yopp didn't call back by press time. He did, however, talk to Vickie Thomas, a reporter for radio station WWJ. According to the station's website, Yopp explained that the city owed DTE $4 million, and that the "new plan puts the city back in the black with the utility." There's no explanation of exactly how it does that. A call to DTE also failed to provide any answers as to how this move may have affected the city's debt situation.
For the time being, anyway, much like the residents of Highland Park, we're being left in the dark.
> Email Curt Guyette