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Major outdoor lighting rules to protect Maui County seabirds move ahead

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Rare seabird recovery and monitoring project on Moku‘ae‘ae (April 22, 2022) PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi

With widespread support from environmental groups, a Maui County measure meant to dim lights that can be lethal for Hawaiian seabirds advanced Wednesday. 

However, some industry officials said the plans may be hard to implement – especially because safe lighting is not widely available. 

Maui County Council’s Climate, Action, Resilience and Environment Committee voted 6-1 to recommend approval for Bill 21 with amendments. The measure now heads to the full council for consideration. 

Bill 21 would implement sweeping changes for all outdoor lighting fixtures in Maui County — including the switch to less than 2% blue light content — in an effort to protect native seabirds from becoming disoriented by artificial lights.  

Called “fallout,” seabirds are confused by artificial lights during maiden flights from burrows out to sea, leaving them at risk of injury or death from predators, vehicle collisions or starvation. 

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Outdoor lighting changes would happen over a three-year period from the bill’s passage. While most offenders will receive a notice of noncompliance with a stated time to fix the issue, the rules could carry an initial penalty of $0 to $1,000 and $1,000 for every day of noncompliance, according to the county’s Office of Council Services. 

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Several environmental groups voiced support for the measure during testimony Wednesday.  

Maui marine biologist Hannah Bernard, executive director and co-founder of Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund, hailed Bill 21 and the work that’s gone into it. 

“I’m so happy about this,” she testified.  

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Maui Conservation Alliance said 12 seabirds call Maui home during the breeding season. Of those, two species are found nowhere else in the world and three species are endangered. Thus, protecting fledglings that can be confused by bright lights is vital. 

“The ordinance includes provisions related to the direction of lights, shielding standards and wave-length specifications that are more seabird-friendly and strategies to help eliminate the use of unnecessary lighting,” chairperson Makaleʻa Chana Ane wrote in testimony.  

David Lane Henkin, Earthjustice attorney, said the Center for Biological Diversity and Conservation Council for Hawai‘i strongly supports Bill 21. 

“Bill 21 would update the lighting ordinance to reflect the latest science on how best to minimize harm from artificial lighting, which can attract fledging Hawaiian petrels, band-rumped storm petrels, and Newell’s shearwaters, resulting in fallout and death,” he wrote. 

Jeff Bagshaw, state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Maui Nui Branch communications and outreach specialist, said the measure addresses light pollution, which is growing across Maui County. 

“Careless and over-lighting does not protect us, it robs us of these ecosystem functions and diminishes the intangible experiences necessary to understand cultural origins,” he wrote. “Bill 21 works to restore the broken links in nutrient cycling and cultural connections.” 

Also, several individuals said that the measure parallels outdoor lighting standards established by Hawai’i County in 1988. 

Not all testimony was supportive, though. 

Maui native and professional engineer in the lighting industry, Eric Miyasato said he’s against the plan, which would impact all outdoor lighting — from outdoor restaurants, patios, seating, car sales lots, private sports venues, batting cages, golf driving ranges, outdoor shopping centers like Maui Mall and Queen Ka’ahumanu Center, private swimming pools, private landscaping, county fairs, outdoor concerts and all residential exterior lighting.  

“By including all outdoor lighting, you’re affecting a broad range of anything outdoor and defined to be outdoor,” he testified. 

Hawaiian Electric Co. suggested that the county look into whether required fixtures would be available before passing the measure. 

“It is our understanding that Hawaii County, which has a similar statute, has established a list of preapproved fixtures; we recommend that if this bill is approved that Maui County adopt a similar list to allow the Company’s customers to simplify compliance with the County ordinance,” wrote Mahina Martin, Hawaiian Electric Government and Community Affairs director. 

County Public Works Director Jordan Molina said it could be difficult for the department and for residents to find appropriate lighting. 

“I would challenge the committee to go to Home Depot or Ace and go find a lightbulb that tells you the 2% blue light content is compliant,” he said during discussion.  

Molina said that specific lighting is not part of the typical package and added he doesn’t know how quickly the industry will evolve to make the lighting more available. 

So far, outdoor sports lighting would be exempt from the law because compliant lighting fixtures have not come online. 

The 6-1 vote to recommend approval included Council Members Gabe Johnson, Alice Lee, Mike Molina, Tamara Paltin, Shane Sinenci and Kelly King, who introduced the measure. Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura cast the sole opposing vote. 

If approved, Bill 21 would require widespread changes to outdoor lighting.  

Some of the changes to outdoor lighting include the following: mercury vapor must not be used for new or replaced fixtures and must be removed within 10 years; all fixtures except neon must have less than 2% blue light content; all fixtures except neon must be down directed and not shining above the horizontal, fully shielded, including shielding that ensures no light shining over the ocean and mounted as low as possible while still complying with existing lighting and safety. 

Exceptions cover all outdoor lighting fixtures producing light by the combustion of fossil fuels including kerosene and gasoline and low wattage fixtures used for holiday decorations.

* An earlier version of this story included maximum fine amounts and exceptions that were omitted in the most recent version of the proposal.

Kehaulani Cerizo
Kehaulani Cerizo was born and raised on Maui and worked for nearly 15 years as a news reporter, copy editor and features editor at daily newspapers. She earned awards at The Maui News in Wailuku and at Today’s Local News in San Diego.
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