Shroud hounds 

This past fall, News Hits took snide note of the city’s $1.2 million effort to protect streetlights from wire-stealing scrappers (“Not so bright,” Metro Times, Oct. 6, 2004). When last we visited the issue, the City of Detroit was placing plastic covers, called shrouds, over the bases of some 21,000 light poles. At that time, Al Fields, the city’s deputy chief operating officer, told us the shrouds were intended to both improve the look of street lamps (more on that later) and thwart scrap thieves who crave the copper wiring inside.

Testing the shrouds, News Hits discovered that they posed no deterrence whatsover. It took zero effort to lift the plastic covers. Fields admitted that, yes, determined thieves would find a way to access the streetlights’ innards.

Last week, an e-mail (keep those tips coming, kids) alerted us to another shroud shortcoming. The tipster directed us to a stretch of St. Aubin beween Vernor and Lafayette on the city’s near East Side. What we saw were cracked shrouds, battered shouds, busted shrouds and, in some cases, shrouds ripped entirely from the poles they were supposed to protect.

Seems that, along with being easy to lift, the shrouds ain’t all that durable, either. Fields says the Department of Public Lighting received a report of vandals in the area. Fields is a good guy, and we have no reason to doubt his word. It is curious, though, that the damage coincided with a major snowfall. Is it possible that plows pushing snow and chunks of ice up past the curb could have inflicted damage as well? Maybe so, admits Fields.

Nevertheless, Fields stands by the program, pointing out that said shrouds (at least those that haven’t been split open) keep snow and road salt from messing with the wiring, which is a good thing. He also insists that, unlike the nitpickers here at the Hits, many Detroiters dig the shrouds. “We get good comments,” Fields says. “We get positive input from the neighborhoods.”

He says the real problem is the city’s antique lighting system, which has poles so old no replacement parts exist for them anymore. “We have to try something,” he says. “That’s what we’re doing.”

For the record, Fields says the shrouds are discouraging scrappers, and he believes they have been effective. “We haven’t done a survey,” he says, “but we know that it is having an effect on the visuals.”

Also, as we went to press, we noticed that the poles had been completely de-shrouded. Fields tells News Hits he hopes to get shrouds back on the poles sometime in the spring.

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