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Friday, November 19, 2004 12:47 PM

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Outdoor lighting bill turned out for now
By HARRY EAGAR, Staff Writer

WAILUKU – After five years of hearings, a proposal for an outdoor lighting ordinance guttered out at a meeting of the County Council Public Works and Traffic Committee Thursday.

"Everybody supports an outdoor lighting ordinance in concept," said Council Member Dain Kane, explaining why he would not support the one Public Works Chairman Mike Molina was trying to get a vote on.

Kane asked Molina to defer – not file – the mass of material collected over the years, and both men promised not to let the issue be forgotten when a new council organizes for the new term that begins Jan. 2.

Molina noted that the dark sky idea was on the agenda when he arrived on the council, and while he said he does not know whether he will continue to be public works chairman next year, he will continue to push for action.

"The chair recognizes that it is somewhat controversial," he said, "but I’m ready to vote."

None of the other committee members would offer a motion, however.

Molina added that he was "a little bit disturbed with information dropped off at the last minute."

Lani Correa, executive director of the Maui Hotel Association, proposed as an alternative to Molina’s draft ordinance a model outdoor lighting bill being worked up by the International Dark-Sky Association (

A main difference is that the IDA measures light according to wattage, while the Maui draft uses lumens.

However, the IDA Model Ordinance is a work in progress, and a complete proposal is not expected until next May.

Meanwhile, "a very precious resource is being stolen from the people of Maui," said Richard Wainscoat, an astronomer at the Institute for Astronomy, the University of Hawaii observatory atop Haleakala.

"The Milky Way is fading from view," Wainscoat said, and there is now no place on Maui where the sky is truly dark. "You have to go to the Big Island" for that.

There are multiple motives for controlling outdoor night lighting:

To preserve viewing conditions for the multimillion-dollar astronomical research programs here.

At certain seasons of the year, to avoid interfering with the young of endangered native sea turtles and seabirds as they make their way to sea. They are attracted to light, and artificial lights can overwhelm the moonlight or starlight they rely on naturally.

Hawaiian culture, which developed under dark skies.

Although no testifiers said they oppose light control, there were a number of objections to specific devices to do it:

Cost. This concerned Council Member Joe Pontanilla.

John Buck, deputy director of parks and recreation, gave a tentative estimate of "about $1 million" to replace lighting at War Memorial football stadium.

Most of the lights that would be replaced under any new ordinance are owned by the county – streetlights, parking lot lights, ball-field lights.

"This bothers me," said Pontanilla. "How do we fund it?"

Safety. The proposed replacement light is low-pressure sodium (instead of high-pressure sodium), which gives off a yellowish cast.

Wayne Hedani of the Kaanapali Operators Association said that safety issues from LPS lights would be a problem at the resort.

Disposal. Lynne Woods, president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce, said LPS bulbs cannot be sent to the landfill.

Both LPS and high-pressure sodium contain lead (and HPS also contains mercury, which LPS does not). HPS lights that burn out are sent to certified Mainland disposal firms.

Pace. The draft ordinance is indefinite so far, but a period of 15 to 20 years has been offered to effect a complete turnover of lighting.

Bud Piccrone of the Wailea Community Association, although he said LPS is "a sticking point," proposed 10 years, as did Correa.

"We really need to get this done," said Piccrone.

Correa proposed tax credits to encourage businesses to change over more quickly.

As drafted, the ordinance would not require immediate replacement of any lights. However, lights that were damaged would have to be replaced with suitable types – Piccrone suggested fully shielded (sometimes called full cutoff) lamps, not necessarily LPS.

"Low-pressure sodium is not an easy fix," he said.

Philip Johnson, the design and covenants manager of the Wailea Community Association, said switching to low-pressure sodium would require new lighting heads, probably new poles and possibly "tearing up parking lots."

He proposed "fully shielded or low-pressure sodium for Class 2" lights.

Class 2 is the kind of light of most interest to the astronomers – street, parking lot and other large, bright installations.

Which lights are to go in which class was still being adjusted by Molina’s staff as recently as last week, but walkway lights and other less-intense lights are Class 1.

The draft proposes no restriction on internally lighted business signs, if they have opaque covers, and almost no restrictions on residential lighting.

Christmas decorations and tiki torches would be among unregulated sources.

Mike Maberry, deputy director of the UH Institute for Astronomy, said in written testimony that because of the phased changeover, it would be "decades" before the color rendition problem would arise, because a mixture of old and new lights would linger in most areas.

He also proposed an "astronomy zone" of 35 miles’ radius from the summit where the changeover would be most important.

Although that would cover almost the whole island, Wainscoat said distance does matter, and the light from Lahaina, Molokai and Lanai is not a great concern.

But, he said, Central Maui, South Maui and Upcountry are all creating trouble for astronomy.

Maberry wrote that "it has never been our intention to recommend any lighting restrictions that would jeopardize safety or place a financial burden on anyone for our own benefit."

Harry Eagar can be reached at

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