It’s a town passionate about preserving its historical heritage, yet has enough innate humor to embrace the name of its local bi-monthly news publication, the Mullet Rapper.
In equal measures, townsfolk revere the assorted array of entrepreneurs as well as scallywags who’ve down the years contributed to Everglades City’s rich history, and there’s an undeniable aura of civic pride that permeates its one-mile by four-block geography.
But, upset the apple cart a little bit, and there’s hell to pay — in this instance all because of some updated street lighting.
It’s an “out with the old, in with the new” scenario, and although there’s no objection to the update itself, the height of the poles and brightness of the proposed lights is causing some high-voltage controversy.
Imminent for placement in the hamlet on Collier Boulevard and South Broadway from Carmellia Street East to the traffic circle of city hall is a half-mile stretch of 16 new lights, to be installed at a height of at least 40 feet.
Cost is $240,826 which is being paid by federal funding in conjunction with the Florida Department of Transportation and Collier County.
The 20-foot-high old poles and lights have already been torn out, and some residents question: Why double the height of the new ones?
Resident and city councilor Elaine Middelstaedt is one. She’s adamant the lights are out of character with the city, and that they’ll likely attract mosquitoes from far and wide.
Additionally, she said, light scatter will interrupt night sky views, and will also be visible from at least six miles west of Carnestown across the swampland.
Middelstaedt said the lights will also be taller than anything in the city “except for the Washingtonian palms.”
She called the lights “highway lights,” and while acknowledging that Mayor Sammy Hamilton has done enormous good for the city during his 16-year tenure, this time questioned his actions.
“I think he might have kept (the project) a little close to his vest, and not realized how far off the design is,” Middelstaedt said.
“I know the contract is signed, and it’s pretty much a done deal, but nobody really knew what we were getting into until recently,” she said.
Not so fast, countered Hamilton, saying that city councilors have been well informed about the project since inception about a year ago.
Taking time out for a call during a weekend trip to the Keys, Hamilton said. “Everything’s been right above board,” he said. “There are just a few people who are complaining.”
The No. 1 reason for the installation of the new lights is safety, he said, particularly for bikers and pedestrians.
As for the brightness, Hamilton said it’s a non-issue because the beams will be directed at the ground like most light poles in the rest of the county.
“The lights will shine on the sidewalks,” he said, adding that he wants to place more lights in the town as well — one set near the high school, and the other along part of the river bank.
Friday, in response to a last-ditch effort from Middelstaedt, Collier County Commissioner Jim Coletta in an e-mail outlined the project after requesting details from relevant staff.
Essentially, he relayed to Middelstaedt, the county is managing the project on behalf of Everglades City by way of a Local Agency Program agreement with FDOT.
The project is funded with federal transportation enhancement dollars, and construction is under way.
“The project has the full support of Mayor Hamilton and, to the best of my knowledge, the majority of the Everglades City Council,” Coletta relayed.
Construction plans were completed in the fall and reviewed by the Everglades City Council at the time of its regular council meeting on Nov. 3, the e-mail information said.
“The general design features of roadway lighting located on Livingston Road medians across from the Wyndemere Country Club, north of Golden Gate Parkway, provides an example of what the lighting project will look like after it is installed and fully operational,” the report said.
That aspect didn’t sit well with resident Patricia Huff, who — in an early May exchange with Hamilton — said she didn’t want the lights to look anything like those of Naples or Marco Island.
Huff said she would have preferred the original historic lamps to have been refurbished to maintain the town’s character.
Still miffed, Middelstaedt said although the project is a done deal, maybe somebody will paint out the lights or reduce the poles to half the size when the mayor’s term is done.