Copper thieves hitting street lights as soon as they're repaired

Copper thieves hitting street lights as soon as they're repaired
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

SAND ISLAND, OAHU (HAWAIINEWSNOW) - State crews have tried to replace and repair copper wiring in street lights along Nimitz Highway more than a dozen times. And each time, copper thieves strike again, thrusting the roadway into darkness.

It's a frustrating situation that's led the state to look for ways to create "tamper-proof" wiring boxes. So far, they've haven't found a fix.

It was a year and a half ago that the thieves first struck, taking wiring from street lights on the highway near the airport viaduct.

The lights last functioned back in September 2014. The state Transportation Department has said copper wiring theft occurs regularly in the area "sometimes the day we install new wire and 'tamper-proof' covers."

DOT spokesman Tim Sakahara said there are several options the state is considering to prevent future thefts.

"Despite the setbacks, we have been trying several different types of tamper-proof fasteners and pull box covers, steel d rop in anchors, and steel plates, with little success," he previously told Hawaii News Now.

"The next possible option is reinforced concrete jackets and welding access handholds and boxes shut with a steel plate. These measures will be more expensive and time consuming. It would also take more time to access to electrical equipment for maintenance and troubleshooting in an emergency."

On Thursday, cut wires were clearly visible in an affected street light at the intersection of Nimitz Highway and Sand Island Access Road.

The biggest concern about the continued thefts is safety.

Last year, a homeless man was killed as he was crossing Nimitz Highway near Kakoi Street. Police said the outage was a "contributing factor" in the man's death.

After the fatality, Sakahara said that the DOT has been "proactive" in attempting to replace the stolen wiring. "However, determined thieves continue to steal from the state."

Worse, the price of copper has been going up, making the metal more attractive to thieves.

The Honolulu Police Department doesn't have a special metal theft unit. And last year, police said they hadn't seen a spike in metal thefts to warrant a specialized unit.

The state has also been grappling with the issue for nearly a decade; as far back as 2007, police were executing raids of recyclers known to buy stolen copper. And in 2009, Hawaii lawmakers toughened the laws around copper theft.

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