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Just when you thought New London couldn't make more stupid decisions

Bear with me. I hope to puzzle my way through New London's decision to spend $50,400 for three off-the-grid streetlights in a park that isn't even open at night. Like the old question about a tree falling in the woods: If a streetlight shines in a park where no one can see ...

It harkens back, for me, to the days decades ago, when New London made national headlines for refusing to hire a police patrolman because he scored too high on the qualifying examination. The city said he was too smart to be a cop.

But first, a look at some really absurd decision-making, this time from the state, in which New London is the victim, not the perpetrator.

The City Council, some time ago, took the bait from a popular restaurateur in the region, who proposed an innovative restaurant and oyster bar on the city's Waterfront Park, and signed a lease with him.

This was a popular decision, one that might help populate the park and therefore the nearby downtown with money-spending visitors. Let me suggest that many of the people who now regularly use the park, a spectacular manufactured pier space that runs between the river and the railroad tracks, don't appear to be gainfully employed.

The deal would have provided the city not only with more of the kinds of visitors it needs but also monthly rent.

But wait, enter the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which shot a letter across the city's bow, saying the restaurant is not a water-dependent use and would not be allowed without a new state permit, which the letter suggested would probably never be granted.

The letter suggested a lot of work went into researching the inappropriateness of the waterside restaurant.

Bureaucrats at DEEP will tell you they are woefully understaffed. But here they proved themselves quite capable of an aggressive response to what they apparently see as grave environmental harm to New London's waterfront: an oyster bar.

City officials are now trying to sell DEEP on the notion that it would indeed be an allowable water-dependent use if restaurant patrons could rent a kayak or hang a fishing line over the railing. Stay tuned, but know that DEEP killjoys successfully have killed this money-making venture at least for this summer.

As part of their lobbying campaign with DEEP for the restaurant, perhaps city officials should point out that they have agreed to install wind- and solar-powered streetlights along the waterfront at Riverside Park, where there are even fewer visitors than at the downtown park.

After all, DEEP loves solar and wind power, right? A city so environmentally progressive that it plans to install green streetlights in a park that is closed after dark should earn some DEEP brownie points.

The decision to install the three streetlights — each one costs more than a small car — is otherwise incomprehensible to me.

The money will come from a fund of money borrowed for improvements at the park. Did that somehow make it more appealing to the councilors who voted for it? Couldn't one of them have suggested more practical improvements, things like picnic tables or barbecues that could be used while the park is open?

The use of the lights doesn't make sense for security since they have only 80 watt LED bulbs and only light up an area smaller than a tennis court. That leaves acres of dark space in the closed park in which to make trouble at night.

I think the most absurd thing in the renderings of the lights are the little café tables at the bases and the city logos that appear on attached banners. That cost more money, many thousands more. I think you will have to see them installed next to the rusted and condemned pedestrian bridge over the adjacent railroad tracks to appreciate the absurdity of it all.

The streetlights will be an enduring reminder of the appropriateness of arguments against blanket municipal and state borrowing.

This seems to support the notion that once the money is available it will be spent on something, no matter how unnecessary or ridiculous.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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