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Tuesday, October 19, 2004 12:24 PM

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Outlook brightens for county light pollution controls
By HARRY EAGAR, Staff Writer

WAILUKU – Some progress could be made before the end of this year on an outdoor lighting measure that’s been on the County Council’s Public Works and Traffic Committee agenda since 1999.

“Hopefully, we’ll take some step before the end of the year,” said committee Chairman Mike Molina on Monday.

Although a countywide outdoor lighting bill has been before the committee for five years, a varied community representing astronomers and biologists has been pushing even longer for controls. On the other hand, hotels and the police have been wary of changing the amount and, particularly, the kind of light available at night.

The latest version of the measure discussed during a committee meeting Monday is shorter and simpler than some previous drafts and follows closely a Big Island law.

The key issue is “Class II” lighting, which is what is used on highways, in parking lots and for commercial buildings’ security, including for the beaches around resort hotels.

Astronomers from the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy have begged for less light in their faces, where it threatens research programs that Mike Maberry, the assistant director, says bring $40 million a year to Maui’s economy.

Lights shining in the wrong places also can mislead endangered seabirds and turtles, especially young ones trying to reach the ocean for the first time.

On the other hand, the kind of replacement light favored in the draft – low-pressure sodium – is yellow. Police have raised concerns about identifying people in this light; and members of the Kaanapali Operators Association, representing 5,000 rooms, are concerned about liability.

Council Member Riki Hokama said he would ask for an exemption for Lanai if an ordinance is adopted.

“I would request more light,” he said. “We have a lot of dark, and our own level of drug problems. I want the bright lights.”

Several other questions remain open, including whether the ordinance would, or could, control lighting on federal or state property; and how much the fines ought to be. Federal or state property would include harbors, airports and schools.

The tentative fine would be $500 for each day of violation.

But Gilbert Coloma-Agaran, director of the county Department of Public Works and Environmental Management, told the committee: “There’s been some suggestion that our penalties are much too low” to encourage compliance.

Another question would be when old, polluting light fixtures would have to go.

Initially, the requirements would apply to new construction. The county’s share for such things as road lighting has been estimated at $4 million, not counting what the Department of Parks and Recreation would eventually have to spend.

Patrick Matsui, who supervises parks planning and development, said he could not say how much it would be, but “it would cost a lot of money.”

Council Member Dain Kane said he hadn’t heard any suggestions for compromise. “I’ve only heard of resistance to doing anything at all,” he said.

Molina agreed there has been a lot of talk.

“We spent a lot of time – too much time – and it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty and proceed,” he said.

Not only birds, turtles and stargazers might end up benefiting.

Lee Altenberg, a UH professor of computing and information sciences who has been compiling information against light pollution, said he discovered that Maui has no controls on “light trespass” from one private property to another.

Some municipalities allow no light leakage across boundary lines, and others set very low limits – 0.1 foot-candle in some cases.

At the end of Monday’s meeting, a suggestion was made to forbid light trespassing, although Coloma-Agaran said his department tends to think that residences, including condominiums, ought to be exempted from the ordinance, if one passes.

Harry Eagar can be reached at

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