Maui experiments with sky-saving lights
WAILUKU » Maui County officials are conducting a demonstration project that could curb the glare of urban lights from threatening the future of the multimillion-dollar astronomy industry.
Officials have installed low-pressure sodium street lights in four locations on Maui.
Scientists say such lights would significantly reduce glare that degrades the work of astronomical observations.
An experiment conducted in 2004 by a University of Hawaii scientist found the night sky was 20 percent to 30 percent brighter than natural night light on the urban northeast side of Mount Haleakala.
Scientists say the night sky should be no more than 10 percent brighter than the natural light, and an increase in glare reduces their ability to see faint stars.
The observatory industry generates an estimated $140 million annually, in addition to $20 million in visitor-related expenses on the Valley Isle, according to the Maui Economic Development Board.
The Big Island has had a dark-sky lighting ordinance for about 18 years.
Several cities around San Diego near the Mount Palomar observatory have ordinances requiring low-pressure sodium lights.
A measure calling for the installation of the lights on the Valley Isle has been stuck in the Maui County Council's Public Works Committee for a few years, following opposition to it by the Maui Police Department.
Maui police say the color of cars and complexion of people appear different under sodium lights from under natural lights and could impair law enforcement work.
Maui Councilman Michael Molina, who introduced the measure, said he has seen nothing to show that low-sodium lighting has adversely affected police work in such places as the Big Island, and continuing to install bright lights threatens Maui's high-technology observatory industry.
"We've got to do something to protect the night sky," he said.
For the testing period, three streetlights have been converted to sodium at Kapunakea Street near Front Street in Lahaina, at Papa Avenue from Waikala to Pohai streets, on South Kihei Road between Waiohuli Street and Welakahao Road, and on Iolani Street makai of Pukalani Street in Pukalani.
The public is invited to send comments on the demonstration by the end of Aug. 28 to Milton Arakawa, director of the Department of Public Works and Environmental Management, at 200 S. High St., Wailuku, HI 96793.