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Lealman's streetlight patience wears thin

(ran WEST edition)

Tony Clark thought his two-year battle to get neighborhood streetlights was over last June when the County Commission approved the project.

The first streetlight would go up in August, Clark was told. Then, it was September. Then October.

The latest estimates, Clark said, put installation "maybe (at) the end of December, possibly the beginning of January."

"I expected that it would move along a little bit faster, especially because these street lighting petitions are something that the community has requested," Clark said.

Residents, he said, "agreed that they want the lights. They agreed with the placement of the lights. They agreed to pay for the lights. There should be no hold-up."

Florida Power, however, said the lights are coming and they're on time.

"We're on schedule for this project. We didn't expect to have much done before December or January," said Rick Janka, a Florida Power spokesman. Lealman might see the beginnings of the project before Thanksgiving, he said. "I can understand that they're anxious."

People need to understand that "just to put in a normal streetlight takes six weeks," he said.

Florida Power needs to install 268 lights and 155 new poles for this project.

"It's just a huge, huge job," Janka said.

Clark's crusade began in 1999 with a request to the county for a petition. The county mapped out lighting districts in the central portion of east Lealman, that portion of the unincorporated area between St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park and Kenneth City's eastern border.

The county returned the prepared petition in September 2000. Clark spent the next five or six months talking with the more than 1,000 property owners in the lighting district that had been drawn around his neighborhood.

When more than 60 percent signed the petition indicating they were willing to pay for the lights, Clark took it back to the Pinellas County Commission for members' approval. That came in June and Clark was told installation would begin in about eight weeks.

To fill in the time, Clark spread his efforts to other lighting districts and, just recently, sent two more completed petitions for Lealman Heights and Hoeldtke Heights. Fourth and fifth petitions for Fruit Haven and Orangewood Heights are almost complete.

But selling people on the idea became more difficult when lights did not come to the area as a result of the first petition. Clark said he felt as if he'd reneged on a promise and that residents were doubting him.

"It kind of makes me the liar, or makes me not have the correct information about stuff, which I'm supposed to be giving people," Clark said. "I try to give information out as accurately as I can possibly give it."

The delay made Clark and the Lealman Community Association, which spearheaded the streetlight drive, decide to postpone collecting signatures until they actually saw some results.

The delay also has sent a political message to Clark, who is active in the movement to have Lealman become a city.

"If we were our own city, then we could have our City Council vote and we would have streetlights. We would have had them years ago if we were a city. It all kind of ties together with what we're talking about becoming our own city."