The streets of Scappoose are in the beginning of a long, slow re-lighting process that will ultimately result in a more energy-efficient illumination system.

During the next two weeks, Columbia River PUD will replace eight streetlights on NW Ridge Drive as well as a few on Sunset Drive and Bella Vista Drive said, Cathy Cartmill, an energy specialist at Columbia River PUD. Several old 175-watt mercury vapor streetlights will be swapped with 100-watt high-pressure sodium bulbs. Currently, there are a total of 26 mercury vapor lights, which are of the highest priority to replace.

“Mercury vapor lights are supposed to be phased out,” said Terry Andrews, Scappoose Public Works field services supervisor. “Both areas being worked on have mercury vapor lights on old wooden posts that are starting to rot, we even had one fall down.”

According to the FDA, mercury vapor bulbs provide safe long-lasting light under normal operating conditions. But, if the outer bulb somehow breaks, the light’s inner tube can continue to emit intense UV radiation causing eye and skin burns, blurred or double vision, headaches, and nausea. However, the poles that the lights are fixed to are of more concern to the city of Scappoose.

Although the mercury vapor bulbs can pose a public health concern if damaged, city officials say that energy efficiency is the main reason for the bulb replacements.

“Energy efficiency is the main draw,” said Andrews. “Every year we try to budget $20,000 from the street budget for street light replacement.”

The bulb replacements are possible through a contract the city has with Columbia River PUD, who orders the materials and plans the replacement projects. Andrews met with a PUD engineer last summer in order to plan this year’s installations.

The cost of street light replacements varies depending on the project. Most of the mercury vapor bulbs are attached to wooden posts, which the city is also trying to eliminate and replace with longer-lasting steel which drives up the cost of the undertaking.

The cost also depends on whether or not the PUD will have to run new wires to the specified location. The upcoming project to replace eight bulbs will cost about $16,700, Andrews said.

The light replacement effort is in its third year and, so far, about six bulbs have been replaced. “Ultimately we want to convert all of the street lights in the city, but we have a total of around 650, so I have no idea how long that will take,” Andrews said.

“We’re in the very beginning stages and we’re looking at what the payback will be,” said Scappoose City Manager Jon Hanken. “We’re always looking to maximize the amount of dollars that we have. In this economy, money is not readily available.”

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