The Maui County Council on Monday adopted a measure that will restrict the amount of blue light emitted by outdoor lighting fixtures on the island. The goal is to reduce the amount of artificial light that can result in injury or death to thousands of migrating birds, sea turtles and other wildlife every year.

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The five council members who voted in favor of Bill 21 were sponsor Kelly King, Shane Sinenci, Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, Alice Lee and Mike Molina. Opposed were Tasha Kama and Yuki Lei Sugimura. Tamara Paltin and Gabe Johnson were excused from the vote, according to King’s office.

All outdoor lighting fixtures, except for neon, must limit short wavelength content to no more than 2% of blue light, according to the bill. Mercury vapor must not be used for new outdoor lighting fixtures.

All outdoor lighting fixtures, except neon, must be directed downward. Also among the provisions: all fixtures must be fully shielded so that no light shines over the ocean.

Light pollution is a serious threat to wildlife, according to scientists. Endangered sea turtles get confused by bright, onshore lighting and travel inland, sometimes crossing roads and getting hit by cars or attacked by dogs or others predators.

Endangered seabird fledglings get disoriented by bright lights while making maiden voyages from burrows out to sea. If the young birds tire and fall to the ground, they can get injured or eaten by rodents, feral cats or other animals.

The Maui Meadows neighborhood faced severe flooding during recent storms.
All outdoor lighting fixtures, except neon, must be directed downward under the new law. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2022

A lawsuit by environmentalists against Grand Wailea resort on Maui aims to protect endangered Hawaiian petrels by forcing the hotel to change its lighting. That suit is currently in the settlement phase and it’s unclear how Monday’s vote will affect the outcome.

David Henkin, the lead attorney for Earthjustice who is suing the resort, said he could not comment on that. But he was pleased with the council’s adoption of the new lighting ordinance.

The bill’s effective date is July 1, 2023. It has a three-year phase in period, giving businesses, agencies and others time to come into compliance. Many exemptions are built into the bill. For example, aviation lighting conducive to safe navigation of aircraft is exempt, as are most non-oceanfront private homes.

Other exemptions include night sporting events and permitted special events on state Department of Education properties, private schools and nonprofit properties, and county parks and facilities, according to the bill.

Critics have complained about the high cost of changing out bulbs and adjusting lighting fixtures. The Office of Corporation Counsel opposed an earlier version of the bill. In a June 17 news release, county lawyers listed a slew of things they objected to with the bill including its implications for public safety, and for public events including rodeos, night markets, outdoor concerts and private sports facilities.

Jay Penniman holds a Hawaiian petrel that was distracted by artificial light. Courtesy: Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project

An email to Corporation Counsel Moana Lutey asking if she still opposed the final bill even after changes were made was answered by the mayor’s spokesperson.

“Mayor (Mike) Victorino will review the final version of the bill that is transmitted to the Office of the Mayor, then determine whether to sign or veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature,” Brian Perry said by email.

King said she and others spent months researching the best available science on how to tackle light pollution and its effects and that’s reflected in the final bill. Pushback on any environmental bill can be expected, King said. In this instance, major opposition to the lighting bill came from the hotel and outdoor event industries. But to see it coming from the Office of Corporation Counsel was unwelcome and crossed a line, in King’s view.

“It’s not their job to oppose our policy making,” she said.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.

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