Critics on East Hampton’s New Lighting Code: Keep It Out of the Blue

April's full moon setting at dawn.
April’s full moon setting at dawn.

When East Hampton Town enacted its first Dark Skies law in 2006, it pioneered the cause of stargazers on the East End, where every other town has since followed suit with their own lighting rules restricting the amount of light that can escape upward from outdoor lighting fixtures.

Many of East Hampton’s dark skies requirements were due to be phased in over the course of several years since 2006. The law was tweaked in 2010 to allow businesses until 2011 to comply with the code.

Over the past two years, the town board decided to complete revamp the unwieldy code to make it easier to understand, and to give businesses more time to comply with the regulations. A new draft law would now give them three more years from the date it is adopted to install dark sky-compliant light fixtures.

After two years of wrangling together the new code and putting it up for public hearing, there was only one feature of the draft that seemed to bother most of the people who spoke at a public hearing before the East Hampton Town Board June 5.

The draft allows the town’s planning board to grant an exception to allow light bulbs with a color temperature up to 3,500 Kelvin, skewing the lights farther to the blue range than in most other dark skies codes on the East End, including Suffolk County’s, which sets the limit at 3,000 Kelvin.

Now, this may seem like a small potatoes sort of difference, but it means a lot to people who want to see the Milky Way, birds and animals and women with aging eyes like former Town Councilwoman Debra Foster, who warned drivers with blue headlights of the night blindness she encounters after their headlights shine in her eyes when she’s driving.

“Look out when you see my Mitsubishi coming,” she said at the public hearing, adding that she believes allowing the planning board to grant the exception will create a slippery slope in which builders just go to the planning board to try to increase the color temperature of their lighting.

“That’s really going to put a dent in what we’re trying to do here: safety and keep our kids enjoying the Milky Way and our stars,” she said.

Concerned Citizens of Montauk Executive Director Jeremy Samuelson said Suffolk County, which has more strict requirements about color temperature “is not some rabid band of hippie liberals from Oregon.”

“In our region, a standard has been adopted,” he said. “I don’t think anybody has made a compelling case we should exceed that standard.”

Ed Geiss said he is a hippie from Oregon, and he doesn’t like light bulbs with high color temperatures either.

“I think 3,000 Kelvin has to be a limit. You must change that. Thank you,” he said.

East Hampton resident and astronomy author Dava Sobel said her neighbor, Dark Skies advocate Susan Harder, urged her to come to the meeting. She thought if she got up and spoke for the night sky, she’d “sound like the lunatic fringe.” But she was wrong.

“I’m happy so many people spoke up,” she said, adding that she’s been watching the international space station from her backyard, using tools at spotthestation.nasa.gov.

“When you watch it go overhead and think there are six people up there, living in space, it really makes you change your focus from the stresses of the day,” she said.

East Hampton Business Alliance Executive Director Margaret Turner was the only person to speak up for the high color temperature, which she said was added to the code to allow businesses to install fewer poles in parking lots.

“It’s not just about swapping out a light bulb,” she said, adding that the business community spent two years making concessions to get the code as currently drafted. She added that many business owners face losing their insurance coverage if their properties aren’t adequately lit.

“We agree that we should stay away from blue lighting, but it’s not a problem until it’s over 4,000 Kelvin,” she said. “Thirty-five hundred Kelvin is white, not blue.”

Cile Downs said brighter light is not necessarily safer light.

“People my age and even younger than me can be blinded very easily,” she said. “Whatever quibble there is about the Kelvin, sometimes when its glarey, the more light you get, the less you can see.”

The board closed the hearing but didn’t vote on the law.

Airport Gas Surcharge Tabled

After several representatives from the aviation community said they were given little notice of East Hampton Airport’s plan to double the fuel surcharge fee at the airport, the town board tabled a resolution that would have increased the fee from 15 cents per gallon to 30 cents per gallon.

Cindy Herbst of Sound Aircraft Services said her company already does most of the work of ordering and testing the fuel at the airport, and she doesn’t understand why the airport would be charging her company the fee since they do the work.

“At other airports, people receive something for their fees,” she said. “I as a business owner now the face tough decision of which of my 15 employees lose their year-round jobs.”

The board did vote to increase landing fees by 10 percent, which they expect will increase the airport’s revenue by $100,000 per year.

Michael Morbeck read a letter on behalf of Jeff Smith from the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, saying he thinks the increase in fees is a thinly veiled plan by the airport’s budget and finance to make the cost of doing business at the airport so high that operators will just leave.

Ed Molarec, who operates a Cessna out of East Hampton, said the increase in fees would hurt the smallest aircraft operators much more than the larger companies.

“I may not land here. I may go to Montauk instead and not buy fuel here,” he said. “A lot of pilots feel the same way I do. It’s going to affect the local population more than anybody else.”

Caldor East Re-Opens, Scavenger Waste Plant to Close

The town’s reuse center at the Springs-Fireplace Road transfer station reopened after several years on June 6, after the town board voted unanimously June 5 to give it another shot on Fridays and Saturdays. The center had originally been closed after a near-accident involving a child there several years ago.

“We’re gonna give this a shot. We hope it works well and hope people that need recycled things can use them,” said Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell.

The board also voted unanimously to close the scavenger waste plant on Springs-Fireplace Road, which is used by cesspool companies who don’t want to drive their trucks further west to unload them.

The plant will close in November, and will ultimately save the town about $800,000 per year after debt service is paid off, said Mr. Cantwell, who added that he’d be interested in entertaining inquiries from cesspool companies interested in running the plant privately.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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