Nov. 29 - Dec. 5, 2001

Light pollution



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Ad hoc group pushing for a rule change that will protect night sky from light pollution.

Gene Thompson

The recent passage of the earth through the Leonid meteor shower reminded Maui residents of both the wonders of the universe and the increasing difficulty of viewing those wonders because of light pollution.

In fact, according to University of Hawaii scientist Lee Altenberg, a guest panelist at last week's Kihei Community Association meeting, light pollution on Maui has doubled in the past 40 years.. This is despite the fact that Haleakala is one of two world renowned observatory sites in Hawaii and observatories are adversely affected by light pollution.

Another panelist, Mike Maberry of the UH Institute of Astronomy, pointed out that 40 percent of the United States no longer gets dark enough for night vision and that most people in the world can no longer see the Milky Way. Night fly-ing birds and turtles are lost in large numbers, he said, because they get disoriented by so much artificial light.

To thwart the advance of light-pollution that threatens to envelop Maui in "sky glow," the ad hoc Maui Committee on Outdoor Lighting Standards was formed by Altenberg, Maberry and Steve Sutrov, a former president of the Kula Community Association.

Using the Hawaii County Outdoor Lighting Ordinance as a model, adopted in August 1988, the Maui group first introduced a draft ordinance to the Maui County Council in July 2000. The council's Public Works and Transportation Committee reviewed the ordinance proposal on Oct 3. At that meeting, the Public Works Committee voted to form a special subcommittee to develop recommendations on the ordinance. The subcommittee is expected to begin its work in January.

To educate the public about light pollution and garner support for the ordinance, the light pollution group worked up a comprehensive slide presentation accompanied by committee member presentations. They are now taking their show on the road.

All three speakers agreed the cause of light pollution is too much light directed into the sky. They also agreed such light is wasted energy, as is the money to pay for it.

Another problem described by the speakers is "light trespass," which is excessive light that enters homes or glare that impairs night drivers, especially the elderly. Though the proposed ordinance addresses primarily public outdoor lighting, they suggested that homeowners be good neighbors and .ensure their outdoor lighting is not excessive and is shielded so as not to disturb others.

"Light trespass can travel for miles and is becoming a major problem," said Steve Sutrov.

The proposed ordinance also sets standards for lighted ball fields, tennis courts and parks-major sources of light pollution. It suggests that other communities have found that lighting can be reduced while providing adequate light and saving on their electric bills.

The ordinance also seeks to establish uniform standards so that the state and county are on the same page with their lighting standards.

The ordinance proposes a five-year plan to phase in outdoor lights, mainly along roadsides, that will use lower wattage, low pressure sodium lights (LPS), shielded to direct light downward. The only objection to this kind of light seems to be that it can affect color perception, which the police sometimes find to be a problem. The ordinance allows exceptions where color perception is critical.

Besides minimal light pollution, another advantage of LPS lights is that they use less wattage and cost less money to operate. The committee estimates, that Maui county spends $1 million per year on electricity for street lighting. With modifications and low pressure sodium lights, they estimate possible savings as high as 60 percent. And because of the energy savings, the changeovers could pay for themselves in three to five years.

"We are spending a lot of money by not doing these retrofits," Altenberg said. "In five years you could see a dramatic change in the appearance of Maui--more like 40 years ago. It would make Maui `no ka oi' again.,,

Organizations interested in a presentation by the ad hoc Maui committee may contact Lee Altenberg, 875-0745. The ordinance draft web page: ) .