Lighting bill gets a new start
By ILIMA LOOMIS, Staff Writer
WAILUKU - County Council members are ready to scrap a proposal for outdoor lighting regulations for Maui County after more than 2¢ years of discussion.
In its place, they want to consider a light-pollution law that's been in use on the Big Island for the past 16 years.
The Maui bill was too technical, too specific and too long, said Public Works Chairman Mike Molina.
He hoped switching to the Big Island model would help prod forward a bill that's gotten bogged down in details.
"Another review of (the Maui draft) may result in a significant delay," he warned colleagues Thursday.
In addition to being more broad and flexible, the Big Island's law has the advantage of a good track record: It's been in place and working since 1988, he added.
That could put to rest two concerns raised against the Maui rules: that they would make law enforcement harder, and they would result in more liability for the county.
The Big Island police say they can work with their island's lighting standards, and a study found that no lawsuits were filed against Hawaii County as a result of the law, Molina said.
He plans to bring the new draft up for discussion in October, and hopes to get a vote on it by the end of the year.
Instead of causing more delay, Molina said he hoped the change in drafts would accelerate the review process. "A little more light has been shed on our direction now," he joked after the meeting.
The proposal to regulate outdoor lights is part of an effort to curb light pollution on Maui.
The nighttime glow from hotels, malls, ballparks and urban neighborhoods threatens some birds and sea creatures, and it impairs the nighttime observations of astronomers on the Haleakala summit.
Both the Big Island rules and the Maui draft are based on shielding outdoor lights, so the glow is directed downward, and switching to yellow-tinged low-pressure sodium bulbs, which cast a light that is less bothersome to wildlife and telescopes.
In some ways the Big Island rules are more strict, because they would require all businesses to convert their lighting over time; Molina said he would suggest a long transition period of 15 to 20 years. The Maui draft would apply only to new lights; no retrofitting would be required.
But the Big Island rules are far more broad. While the Maui draft would base lighting standards on the type of lighting, its use and its lumen output, the Big Island law defines three basic classes of public lighting and applies general rules to each.
Council Member Charmaine Tavares favored scrapping the Maui draft in favor of something based on the Big Island rules, saying that tweaking and discussing the details of the current proposal "could go on ad infinitum."
Council Chairman Dain Kane assured the crowd that the switch wouldn't add too much extra time to the outdoor lighting discussion, which started in the mid-1990s.
"I don't think this body intends to drag it out another seven years," he said. "Really."
Lee Altenberg, who sat on the Subcommittee on Outdoor Lighting Standards that drafted Maui's bill, said he thought the bill could be "pared down," but wasn't sure the council could cut much out by switching to the Big Island model.
Maui's draft was based on the Big Island law, but committee members added a number of compromises to satisfy different groups who were concerned about the rules, he said.
"A lot of the bulk has to do with specific compromises," he said.
Some speakers said they were satisfied with the Maui draft, and they urged the council to move forward with rules to curb light pollution.
"Most of our concerns have been mitigated," said Lynne Woods of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.
"Wildlife, science and our economy will benefit with less light pollution," she said.
Sean McLaughlin urged the council to protect the starscape.
"The night sky is just such an amazing thing," he said. "Having lived in the city, and come here, and seen that sky - talk about magic."
Jeanne Skog, chief executive officer of the Maui Economic Development Board, said Haleakala's telescopes are important to Maui's economy, drawing both major Mainland companies and small, "homegrown" start-ups.
The high-quality viewing from Haleakala "is a natural competitive advantage that can't be matched and can't be recreated," she said.
Others said they still had concerns about the light-pollution bill, saying requiring too much darkness in public areas would be a safety concern.
"The proposed ordinance may cause injuries and increase crimes against residents and visitors," said Wayne Hedani of the Kaanapali Operations Association.
He warned the council to think about liability.
"You will most likely be brought into future lawsuits related to accident or injury on our property because of inadequate outdoor lighting," he said.
Craig Tanaka, who works at a South Maui hotel, said people could get hurt walking in dark areas.
"I'd ask you to really look at this from a liability standpoint," he said.
The low-pressure sodium lights obscure color and make it difficult to identify criminals when a crime occurs, he added.
"Our concern is the safety of our tourists, our visitors, our employees and the residents of Maui," he said.
Rob Hoonan, director of engineering at the Grand Wailea, said the proposal needed to find a balance, and that it was still a "work in progress."
"The police concern and the safety concern has to be met, as well as the wildlife and the Haleakala observatory (issues)," he said.
But Hannah Bernard of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund disagreed with those criticisms.
"I'm hearing a lot of fear," she said. "Unfortunately, lighting hasn't prevented the (crime) problems that are already happening in Kaanapali."
She urged the council not to fear liability.
"We can't let this ordinance be held hostage by the litigious society we live in," she said.
Ilima Loomis can be reached at email@example.com.