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Tuesday, November 01, 2005 9:30 AM

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Public to see how fixtures fare in fight against streetlight pollution

WAILUKU – Four areas around Maui will have their streetlights replaced with low-pressure sodium fixtures for a six-month test period to get feedback from the public and county agencies about the pros and cons of such a conversion.

Public Works Director Milton Arakawa offered to the County Council Public Works Committee Monday a proposal that would replace the lights from February to July in the following locations:

Lahaina – Kapunakea Street in the vicinity of Front Street.

Kahului – Papa Avenue from Waikala to Pohai streets.

Kihei – South Kihei Road between Waiohuli Street and Welakahao Road.

Pukalani – Iolani Street downhill from Pukalani Street.

Arakawa said it would take about three months to replace the fixtures temporarily. Each pole replacement will cost about $1,000 with the entire experiment costing the county between $8,000 and $12,000. Arakawa called that a good price to determine if the public is ready for a complete switchover of county fixtures, which would total about $4 million.

“This will be a good opportunity for the public to make the judgment for themselves,” said Arakawa.

After the test period, the poles will be reconverted to the high-pressure sodium lights until the County Council passes an ordinance dealing with light standards.

The bright streetlights now in use have been criticized as contributing to light pollution, but some fear that the low-pressure lights could hinder police efforts because colors can be hard to distinguish under them.

Maui police Capt. Milton Matsuoka noted that streetlights are “here specifically for public safety” and if any kind of degradation resulted from the lower lights “we’d have concerns about it.”

The Big Island switched to the low-pressure lights years ago and apparently has no plans to go back. Matsuoka said he’s been to Hilo and has seen the “definite color degradation.” For instance, red cars can appear to be gray.

“It will be good to have side-by-side comparison” of the different types of lighting, said Matsuoka.

Kula resident Steve Sutrov, a member of the Outdoor Lighting Committee and a longtime proponent of low-pressure sodium fixtures, said an adjustment period is needed to get used to the alternative.

“As soon as people become adapted, even the police, it (the new lighting) becomes accepted by the community,” said Sutrov.

Committee member Mike Molina suggested that the county eventually might consider a mix of the types of lights.

Committee Chairman Joe Pontanilla noted that the item was particularly timely and reminded his colleagues attending the Hawaii State Association of Counties meeting later this year in Kona to make a point to observe the low-pressure lighting that is now standard on the Big Island.

Valerie Monson can be reached at vmonson@mauinews.com.

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