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Small town near Detroit loses street lights as part of utilities settlement

DTE Energy is repossessing Highland Park’s street lights and selling them as scrap metal as part of a settlement over a $4 million dollar electric bill.

Highland Park is a small city that is surrounded by the city of Detroit.

Detroit News reports that 14,000 light poles have been removed and locals are complaining that schools and businesses have been targeted by burglars since the city went dark.

[DTE Spokesman Len Singer] said the utility is under no obligation to maintain service to communities that don’t pay their bills. “But obviously, we wanted to work with the city to provide some lighting for their residents and businesses,” he said.

DTE began removing the light poles in August, rather than just cutting off the power, to avoid lawsuits and confusion, he said.

“Mostly, it was a liability issue; we didn’t want to have poles there that were de-energized, and likely won’t ever be energized again,” Singer said. “Also, we wanted to avoid the confusion of having lights up that don’t work. In the end, we figured it was better to just take them out.”

Some cities own their street poles and pay DTE for the electricity. “But we own the lights in Highland Park,” Singer said.

Highland Park is having a hard time paying for other services, too.

The state Treasury Department recently ordered a review of the finances of the city’s school system, a step that could lead to a takeover of the schools, as has already happened in Detroit.

Under Michigan’s contested Emergency Manager law the governor can appoint people to take over financially-troubled local governments and schools and fire elected officials, break contracts, privatize services or even dissolve municipalities.

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