Lighting facelift aims to save shearwaters

LIHUE — County officials are close to wrapping up a multi-million dollar effort to change out lights at park and stadium facilities on Kauai to curtail impacts on endangered seabirds. 

The last leg of the multi-year project calls for the retrofitting of ball field lights at Anahola Village Park, Hanapepe Park, Kalawai Park, Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste Sports Complex, Vidinha Stadium, Wailua Homesteads Park and Wailua Houselots Park.

The $1.9 million contract for the project was awarded to Paul’s Electrical Contracting, LLC in Aiea.

The same company was paid $1.6 million to retrofit 37 ball field lights at H.P. Faye Park, Waimea Athletic Field, Anne Knudsen Park and Kapaa New Town Park — now known as the Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste Sports Complex — in 2013 and 2014. 

“Transitioning to bird-friendly lighting at all county facilities has been one of our priorities, so we’ve budgeted for the retrofits for several years,”  Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. wrote in a email. “I’m glad that we’re nearing the end of this multi-year project.”

County Department of Parks and Recreation Director Lenny Rapozo said he wasn’t sure how may lights will need to be changed this time around but confirmed that all of the lights in the designated county facilities will be retrofitted.

“As far as I know, no nighttime events are scheduled at the Vidinha Stadium baseball field,” Rapozo said. 

Notices will be sent out to inform the public prior to the start of the project.

The ongoing effort to retrofit ballpark lights in county parks dates back to about 2007. Since then,  Rapozo said retrofitting work has taken place at Hanapepe Stadium, Vidinha Stadium, Kapaa Stadium, Lihue Tennis Courts, Peter Rayno Park and Isenberg Park.

The upgrades were one of the steps taken by the county to comply with a 2010 Justice Department plea agreement in which the county and Kauai Island Utility Cooperative admitted to violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The charges, at the time, blamed the deaths of Newell’s shearwaters on the lighting policies at county facilities.

The county’s agreement included a $15,000 fine, a $30,000 donation to the Kauai Humane Society’s Save Our Shearwater program and $180,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to benefit the Newell’s shearwater.

Officials said seabird fledglings can become confused by stray light during their first nocturnal flight from their nesting burrow to the sea. Some of these birds end up falling inland, where they can become prey for predators.

Phone calls to the Kauai Seabird Habitat Conservation Program and Save Our Shearwaters program were not returned by press time. 

The new lights, Rapozo said, will be available seven days a week from 6 to 10 p.m. during “non-fledging season” — dates outside of the shearwaters’ fledgling season, which runs from Sept. 15 to Dec. 15.

The systems at each facility include a push button to turn the lights on for an hour at a time and an alert system at the end of each hour that will warn users that the button needs to be pushed again for additional use. If the button is not pressed, the lights will turn off, which could save the county money on its electricity bill.

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