Wednesday, December 20, 2006
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Wednesday, December 20, 2006 10:33 AM

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Diluted light pollution bill advances
By ILIMA LOOMIS, Staff Writer

WAILUKU – County Council members said they were disappointed with a “watered-down” bill to restrict light pollution, but gave it an initial approval anyway Tuesday.

A key disputed provision to make all new public lighting use low-pressure sodium bulbs that are less harmful to astronomy and wildlife than white light was stricken from the bill before it was passed out of the council’s Public Works Committee last month. But council members said Tuesday the bill would be a first step, after six years of trying to address light pollution.

The council voted 7-2 to approve the standards on first reading, with Dain Kane and Jo Anne Johnson voting “no.”

Johnson said the standards didn’t go far enough.

“I believe the bill has been so watered down that it does not address some of the basic reasons we started this six years ago,” she said.

She said she used to enjoy watching night-flying owls and gazing at stars and meteor showers from her home in West Maui.

“None of that is possible now,” she said.

Low-pressure sodium light fixtures cast a narrow spectrum of light that doesn’t interfere with astronomical equipment and is less of a distraction to sea turtles and night-flying birds that are disoriented by bright white lights. But the fixtures cast a yellow-tinged light that makes it difficult for humans to perceive colors.

Maui police and visitor industry leaders had lobbied against the low-pressure sodium requirement, saying it would encourage crime and make it hard for police officers to identify suspects because of the poor color rendition.

But Council Member Mike Molina, who worked on the lighting bill for several years as a former chairman of the Public Works Committee, said low-pressure sodium bulbs had been required for more than two decades on the Big Island and in other communities with no reported problems.

“I’ve not received any conclusive data that lower-impact lighting leads to an increase in crime,” he said.

Molina supported the bill expressing hope that the council would add requirements to it in future years.

“It is a start towards addressing the light pollution issue – a small one at that,” he said.

Charmaine Tavares, who would be responsible for implementing the law as mayor for the next four years, said the bill would address the “low-hanging fruit” of the light pollution issue, by requiring public lighting to be fully shielded. She also hoped the council would address the more controversial issues in the future.

“I’m going to support this bill even though there are lots of areas of disappointment to me,” she said. “But I think we need something to get us started.”

Mike Maberry, deputy director for the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, said he was glad to see the ordinance move forward with a requirement for fully shielded lights, but disappointed the final draft did not include a mandate for low-pressure sodium bulbs or restrictions on glare from residential lights.

There was no evidence to support police claims that low-pressure sodium lights would provide less security than regular lighting, he said.

“The (council) has made the conscious decision, based on emotion and perception – not on public opinion, nor scientific fact – to sign the death warrant for the goose that laid the high-tech golden egg on Maui,” he said. “Shielding will not save the night sky above Haleakala.”

Ilima Loomis can be reached at

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Na Mele O Maui

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