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Wednesday, October 20, 2004 11:05 AM

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Outdoor lights need controls

There’s a reason a Maui County ordinance reducing light pollution has languished in committee for five years.

In the most simple terms, the reason is a lack of any kind of overwhelming consensus. That translates into there being no clear political capital in voting either way. While pusillanimous politicians dither, the number of high-intensity lights strung out along shorelines and highways are increasing.

Part of the community considers the bright, city-like lights a good thing. This part of the community values security, knowing everything and everyone who is in the immediate vicinity, above whatever value a night lit by the moon or stars might have. Then there is the cost of retrofitting existing lights.

The reasons for dimming and redirecting lights downward have both ecological and economic benefits.

Seabirds that nest on land find their way as fledglings out to sea by reflected moonlight. Every year a number of these young birds become confused by lights along streets and playing fields. Sea turtles are also victims of lights on land, heading away from the ocean where they belong. Hatchling honu have been found scuffling around in parking lots, for example.

The principal economic benefits include preserving a nighttime sense of open space – call it part of the visitor industry romance, and, more importantly, an industry that puts a reported $40 million a year into the island economy. That industry is astronomy, which is being threatened by the growing ground light on Maui.

After going through many drafts in an attempt to accommodate everyone’s concerns – an impossible task – the County Council Public Works Committee is concentrating on a version of the Big Island’s ordinance, established years ago to protect that island’s astronomy industry.

Objections based on cost can be ameliorated by phasing in changes. Objections based on paranoia are outweighed by the economic and aesthetic benefits of preserving Maui’s nighttime sky.

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100 Mahalani Street, Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii 96793
808-244-3981 (local)