Maui bill that curbs lights harmful to wildlife moves forward, but critics say it’s unfair

The Maui County Council is advancing a bill to curb bright lights that harm wildlife.
Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 6:48 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 21, 2022 at 3:18 PM HST
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WAILUKU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Maui County Council is advancing a bill to curb bright lights that harm wildlife.

Critics say the measure unfairly targets the visitor industry.

“The fact that special events with temporary lighting can occur at various locations outdoors, except hotel properties is very punitive,” said Maui Hotel and Lodging Association Executive Director Lisa Paulson.

The council wants to require a specific type of light that protects Native Hawaiian seabirds and turtles from becoming disoriented. The lights should limit short wavelength content to no more than two percent of blue light content and be down directed and fully shielded.

“Over 1,000 seabirds fall out each year. Now that’s only the ones we find. I don’t have the data on how many of those don’t survive,” said Jeff Bagshaw with the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

The proposal still allows a lot of nighttime activities to be fully lit, like Obon Festivals, non-profit events, sporting events, and special events held on state, county, and private property. However, it does not cover special events held outdoors at hotels and other transient accommodations.

“To single out special events on hotel property would not only be unfair, but detrimental to all events tied to our number one economy…from concerts to even the luaus,” said Event Technologist Neldon Mamuad.

“It blows my mind that people think a sea bird is going to be able to identify, oh, that’s a non-profit event, so that light’s OK. That’s a paid event I’m going to crash at. That’s bizarre,” said Kalani Rodrigues with Hawaii Stage and Lighting.

The measure passed eight to one Tuesday afternoon.

Councilmember Yuki Sugimura was the lone vote against it.

“It’s a good thing to save the wildlife and the turtles and everything else that we care about for the future. I just want to say, please care about the people who cannot afford to make this change,” she said.

Proponents of the bill say it’s a small price to pay.

“Human Health is also adversely affected by the effects of light pollution,” said Jay Penniman.

“It seems to have a great need, but there’s so many in the community who don’t get it,” said Mike Moran with Kihei Community Association.

“If we’re going to move ahead with respect for the aina, respect for our ecosystems, we’ve got to figure out a way to coexist and to not put our commercial needs first,” said Councilwoman Kelly King.

The council will vote on the measure one more time. If it passes, it will take effect in July.

Everyone has three years to get into compliance with the new legal lights.