Retrofitting Marathon’s street light design isn’t as easy as it sounds. That’s because the lights — running from Coco Plum Drive to about 37th Street along U.S.1 — must conform to state Department of Transportation (DOT) specifications. Making changes, city officials said, is a lengthy process that includes photometric studies, engineering approvals and energy efficiency tests.
So, the City of Marathon has come up with a unique solution to streamline the process. It will hire Energy Systems Group to do the study and then perform the work … provided it can come up with a plan that meets the state agency’s requirements. The City of Marathon will operate under a “piggy back” agreement with the City of West Palm Beach that has engaged the same company to do similar work.
“We’re willing to sign on to a turnkey solution,” said City Manager Roger Hernstadt. “They will only be paid $20,000 to do the study and get FDOT permits. They have a high incentive to fight that battle on our behalf, because if they don’t there’s no more money. The money is ‘back loaded’ in the second half of the contract.”
The remainder of the $200,000 project will go toward retrofitting as many light poles as possible, starting in the middle of town adjacent to the airport and city hall. Once a design and engineering plan is in place, it should be easier and less expensive to continue the project throughout the rest of Marathon, said city Public Works Manager Carlos Solis. The project, if it continues, would likely be funded over a number of years.
Replacing Marathon’s lighting is one of Mayor Mike Cinque’s pet projects. He’s said he thinks Marathon’s existing streetlights look “too industrial.”
“We need a friendlier, softer look. When I was elected seven years ago, I had two things that I wanted to accomplish — get some landscaping on the right of way and do something about the streetlights. It gives the city such a hard look, especially at night. [Overseas Highway] is our Main Street, and we need to make it look as attractive as possible.”
In addition to replacing the light poles with a more decorative option, city officials will also ask Energy Systems Group to study whether it’s possible to remove, or turn off, some street lights. This could eliminate Marathon’s so called “light pollution.”
“If we could do that, then Marathon wouldn’t have the glow that’s seen from a distance,” Solis said. “Other communities in the Florida Keys don’t have that.”
There’s still one last possible benefit to retrofitting Marathon’s street lights — energy savings. The city will instruct Energy Systems Group to research more efficient lighting options to reduce utility costs. The state DOT subsidizes Marathon’s utility bill, but doesn’t cover the entire cost. According to Solis, the standard reimbursement rate per light is supposed to cover 90 percent of the city’s cost. However, because utility rates are higher in the Keys than other parts of the state, the checks fall short.
“Right now, we’re being reimbursed for about 60 percent of what we spend on utilities for the street lights. And that’s an improvement of the less than 50 percent we used to receive,” said Solis.
The city spends about $59,000 in street light utility costs. Last year, FDOT reimbursed the city $29,000. This year it will receive $35,000, Solis said.