Plans to switch outdoor lighting to help Maui seabirds get shuttered for now
July 19, 2022, 6:00 AM HST
* Updated July 18, 7:18 PM
Maui County Council on Monday pulled the plug for now on a bill that would implement widespread changes to outdoor lighting.
Bill 21 was designed to protect native seabirds from lighting fixtures that could disorient them and even lead to deaths. It proposed sweeping changes to outdoor lighting, including switching most fixtures to those with less than 2% blue light content.
However, council members during Monday’s meeting said the planned switch left some community members confused. The vote of 8-0, with Council Member Tasha Kama absent and excused, sent the bill back to committee.
Council Member Mike Molina said that as the bill progressed, more and more people from major segments of the community, including parents, business owners and sports leaders, were expressing concerns.
“We want to make sure that everybody has a full understanding, not just the science community, but also our residents who can’t attend the meetings because they’re working,” he said ahead of the vote. “It’s of course about the environment and the birds — but it’s also about activities involving our society, everything, cultural activities, sports activities, that’s why this bill has far-reaching effects.”
Council Member Kelly King, who introduced the bill, said people did not respond to requests for input when February discussions were had in committee.
Plus, recent news reports caused confusion, she added.
“I understand that there’s been some sensationalistic journalism around this and it’s gotten people unfortunately on the wrong track about what we’re trying to do,” King said. “I was disappointed that somebody gave the public the impression that we were trying to close down night sports — that was never an intention. In fact, that was one of the first things we did was make that exemption.”
“I’m hoping that this doesn’t turn into another attack on an environmental bill like we had with the single-use plastic ban,” King said.
Bill 21, which had garnered strong support from environmental groups and individuals, sailed through council committee and first reading at full council. The bill was being heard on second and final reading Monday.
Supporters said that changing outdoor lighting fixtures over a phased period would prevent 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, according to the bill.
Opponents, though, argued that the new lights are limited or nonexistent in some industries, making it hard to switch; transitioning lights may not even protect seabirds from fallout; and one business stands to benefit from the switch.