While most of us take lights for granted, the astronomers atop Haleakala take light very seriously. One of their biggest problems is blocking out excessive and misdirected ground-light pollution. If this situation is left unchecked, it will cripple the effectiveness of the observatories on the summit.
Limiting light pollution makes sense because of Maui’s cultural heritage and our rural small-town way of life, along with helping wildlife and science. Gazing at the night sky may be a simple pleasure, but it is a precious resource that is hard to reclaim once lost.
No one is opposed to limiting light pollution on Maui. The goal is very desirable. Most of the resort developments on Maui have very effective nonpolluting lights. The greatest contributors to light pollution on Maui are street lights, school and county playing fields and courts, unshielded parking lots, building up-lights and gas station canopy lights.
Maui County has approximately 4,400 streetlights with the state highways adding another 1,200 to the total. Almost all of these lights are unshielded, high-pressure sodium lights (HPS). The most recent outdoor lighting bill that was deferred by the County Council’s Public Works Committee would have mandated changing all street, parking lot and walkway lights to low-pressure sodium lights (LPS) similar to those found on the Big Island (Editorial, Nov. 24).
LPS lights are preferred by the astronomers because they produce a narrow color spectrum that is easily filtered out of the night sky. These lights render so little color that almost everything appears a shade of gray to the human eye. Because LPS lights are significantly different than our presently used HPS lights, the fixture and mounting arms for all lights would have to be replaced if we decide to convert to LPS street lighting. Maui Electric estimated the cost to replace the existing streetlights at minimum of $1,000 per fixture. That translates to $ 4.5 million for the county and $1.2 million for the state.
Other sources of light pollution are our sports and playing fields. Anyone living in Central and Upcountry Maui is aware of the excessive stray light coming from the War Memorial field and King Kekaulike High School. Just to properly shield the War Memorial lights could cost the county as much as $1 million. Every community has public facilities that would require lighting renovation.
Retrofitting LPS also may require tearing up parking lots, walkways and streets. At present, there is no cost estimate to the county, state or businesses to do this at present. The county public works director has voiced concerns about the personnel that may be needed to enforce a lighting ordinance. The Maui Police Department has expressed safety and security concerns about the use of LPS. To date they are opposed to use of LPS as the latest draft bill would have mandated.
The council’s Public Works Committee was very concerned about these unresolved issues and therefore deferred the proposed ordinance. Creating an unfunded, overly complex law does no one any good.
What is needed is an ordinance that reduces light pollution, is cost effective and manageable in its enforcement. Neither of the last two draft bills achieved this. Hopefully an amalgam of the two bills will create a workable ordinance in the next council term.
Phil Johnson is the design and covenants manager for the Wailea Community Association and a member of the Maui American Institute of Architects. He lives in Wailuku.