LEWISTON — They are the squirrels who stole Christmas.
Lewiston has ditched its 50-foot Christmas tree because Kennedy Park squirrels were gnawing through $3,500 worth of new LED lights, fully ignoring the city’s squirrel-proofing efforts.
Trouble started right after the tree lighting at the annual Parade of Lights, according to Mike Bernier, Public Works district manager.
Two days after the Dec. 3 ceremony, one-third of the lights went out. Staff replaced one strand. Three days later, two-thirds of the lights went out.
Shortly after, the city pulled the plug.
“Apparently (the electricity) doesn’t kill (the squirrels) because we haven’t found any dead ones around,” Bernier said.
Turns out the squirrels did the same thing last year, on the sly. As lights slowly blinked off during the course of the holiday season, officials chalked it up to a power issue.
“We were watching the tree darken, if you will, but it didn’t dawn on anyone it would be squirrels gnawing through the strands of lights until we took them down,” said Megan Bates, Public Works’ deputy director. “It’s like, ‘Holy cow, what’s this?'”
There were teeth marks and damage to the tune of $600.
City Administrator Ed Barrett said that when the city went to replace those lights, they weren’t available any more, prompting the more expensive LED purchase.
Up until two years ago, Lewiston had used a cut Christmas tree displayed in Dufresne Plaza, in front of the district courthouse, as its city holiday tree. After Argo Marketing moved in and revamped the abutting building, there wasn’t room anymore, Barrett said.
The city scouted for a new location to set up a tree this season, considering a spot by Bates Mill No. 5, but it wasn’t able to raise the $2,000 needed for a base and anchors, Barrett said.
So instead, it was back to the live spruce in Kennedy Park, with precautions. Bates said city workers picked as many pine cones off the tree as time allowed and wrapped tree spikes up the trunk, both to discourage squirrels.
Bernier said the old theory used to be that squirrels chewed on lights to get at the paper insulation around the cords for their nests. The new cords are rubber and plastic so there’s no such draw.
Barrett has only received one complaint about the missing Christmas tree, from a woman asking if he’d caved to political correctness.
No, just squirrels.
“Clearly, we’re going to have to figure out what to do next year,” he said. “We still have all the lights up on Lisbon Street and Main Street in places, so we’re still trying to have the Christmas spirit. I think it’s just unfortunate that our furry friends defeated us this year and our Christmas tree.”