Key outdoor lighting rules to protect Maui County seabirds move forward

Moku’ae’ae Rare Seabird Recovery and Monitoring Project (April 22, 2022) PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi

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

However, some industry officials have said the plans could be difficult to implement, particularly because safe lighting is not widely available.

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

Bill 21 would implement sweeping changes to all exterior light fixtures in Maui County – including switching to less than 2% blue light – in an effort to prevent native seabirds from being disoriented by artificial lights.

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

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Exterior lighting changes would occur over a three-year period from the passage of the bill. The rules would carry an initial penalty of $1,000 and $1,000 for each day of non-compliance.

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Several environmental groups expressed support for the measure in testimony Wednesday.

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

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

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Maui Conservation Alliance said 12 seabirds call Maui home during the breeding season. Of these, two species are found nowhere else in the world and three species are endangered. So, protecting baby birds that may be confused by bright lights is vital.

“The ordinance includes provisions for directing lights, shielding standards and wavelength specifications that are more seabird-friendly and strategies to help eliminate the use of unnecessary lighting,” wrote President Makaleʻa Chana Ane in his testimony.

Earthjustice attorney David Lane Henkin said the Center for Biological Diversity and Conservation Council for Hawaii strongly supports Bill 21.

“Bill 21 would update the Lighting Ordinance to reflect the latest scientific knowledge on how best to minimize damage from artificial lighting, which can attract Hawaiian petrels, storm-rumped petrels bandaged and Newell’s Shearwaters, resulting in fallout and death,” he wrote.

Jeff Bagshaw, State Department of Lands and Natural Resources, Forestry and Wildlife Division, Maui Nui Branch Communications and Outreach Specialist, said the measure addresses light pollution, which increases in Maui County.

“Recklessness and excessive lighting do not protect us, they rob us of these ecosystem functions and diminish the intangible experiences needed to understand cultural origins,” he wrote. “Bill 21 works to restore broken links in the nutrient cycle and cultural connections.”

Additionally, several people said the measure paralleled outdoor lighting standards set by Hawai’i County in 1988.

However, not all of the testimonials were favourable.

Maui native and professional engineer in the lighting industry, Eric Miyasato said he was against the plan, which would impact all outdoor lighting – from outdoor restaurants, patios, seating, car sales grounds, 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 outdoor lighting.

“By including all outdoor lighting, you’re affecting a broad spectrum of everything that’s outdoor and defined as outdoor,” he said.

Hawaiian Electric Co. suggested the county consider whether required fixtures would be available before adopting the measure.

“We understand Hawaii County, which has a similar status, has established a list of pre-approved devices; we recommend that if this bill is approved, Maui County adopt a similar list to allow the company’s customers to simplify compliance with the county’s order,” wrote Mahina Martin, director of government and community affairs at ‘Hawaii Electric.

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

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

Molina said specific lighting was not part of the typical package and added that he didn’t know how quickly the industry would move to make lighting more available.

So far, outdoor sports lighting would be exempt from the law as compliant 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 only opposing vote.

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

Some of the changes to exterior 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 lights, must contain less than 2% blue light; all fixtures except neon lights must be directed downwards and not shine above the horizontal, fully shielded including shielding which ensures that no light shines above the ocean and mounted as low as possible while respecting existing lighting and security.

The exceptions cover all outdoor fixtures that produce light by burning fossil fuels, including kerosene and gasoline; low wattage light fixtures used for holiday decorations; temporary lighting for public safety, road construction, field harvesting and road crossing; temporary security lighting of the beach of hotels and condominiums; lighting on federal and state properties, such as airports and ports; outdoor lights on timed motion sensors within a five-minute limit; and sports and athletic fields, private school properties, and county parks and facilities because they lack compliant light fixtures.

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