Seeking solutions for light pollution
By Sue Tiffin
Patricia Walshe began a presentation on light pollution on behalf of the Climate Change Action Committee with a colourful photograph of a busy city streetscape showing a background of the brightly lit windows of tall apartment buildings and the blur of car lights as traffic zooms by.
“The picture is what most of us think of when you think of light pollution, and you think of Minden Hills and you think, we don’t have that problem,” she told councillors at the July 25 Minden Hills council meeting, adding that light pollution has changed dramatically in her time here. “We no longer have a dark sky. That’s just in four years. It’s a small problem, but one that can easily be looked at, at this time.”
Alongside fellow CCAC member Mike Johnson, Walshe presented to council on light pollution, a term used to describe the effects of outdoor artificial lighting on our biology and ecology. The dark skies initiative has three objectives: to preserve the dark night sky and to limit light pollution in Minden Hills without interfering with safety, security or placing unreasonable restrictions on commercial signage; to educate and create an awareness amongst all citizens of the township establishing a common culture of dark sky awareness, and to establish a set of guidelines around light pollution for the township.
Light pollution can prevent people from being able to relax in their home or get a good night’s sleep; alter the environment of nocturnal animals and disrupt ecosystems, and affect tourism if the typically dark sky allowing for astronomy in a rural environment is instead washed out with light, Walshe explained. About 35 per cent of all exterior light is wasted for not being focused in the correct place, resulting in wasted energy, she said, on several occasions citing darksky.org, an international association advocating for the protection of the night sky.
After researching the issue of light pollution in Minden Hills, the CCAC found there didn’t seem to be any local bylaws regarding light pollution outside of downward facing lights being suggested for commercial projects.
“I think there are a lot of complaints about light pollution, but they’re individual and people haven’t really looked at the problem yet,” said Walshe. “If we had bylaws, it would be easier for the staff, easier for everyone to just define what is required, what isn’t.”
A graphic in the presentation showing examples of acceptable and unacceptable lighting fixtures – both which exist on properties in Minden – displayed lights that provide for “full cut-off,” light that is pointing down and shielded, and Walshe also noted that as well as the type of light being used, the colour of the light was also important in preventing light pollution. The presentation showed images of lights on properties throughout Minden, including along the highway, on residences and in the form of video screens, with Walshe pointing out which of those complied with dark sky regulations.
“We’d like to preserve our night sky,” Walshe explained. “We’re not trying to reduce the number of lights, we’re trying to take lights, use the correct lights and focus the light to where it is needed.”
Neighbouring communities have passed bylaws to darken their skies, while some – including Muskoka and North Frontenac – promote a dark-sky preserve.
“These are now becoming tourist destinations,” she said. “Haliburton depends on tourism so having dark sky bylaws would help us in that way.”
Mayor Brent Devolin said the presentation offered “interesting information,” that he has heard comments regarding light pollution more typically from people who live on the lake through cottage association annual general meetings, and suggested the Climate Change Action Committee begin an education and awareness campaign by reaching out to cottage associations to help modify behaviour.
Councillor Pam Sayne, who said she receives many calls from constituents about light pollution each year, applauded the CCAC’s initiative and said she thought the municipality, not the committee, has a responsibility to address education with both cottage associations and year-round residents. She said she wanted to go forward with a recommendation from staff.
“I think what the Climate Change Action Committee is asking for in terms of a policy and recommendations for new developments or ongoing developments and having a bylaw regarding lighting is an important motivation for us to consider, looking at tourism, looking at the health and safety of our residents,” she said. “I think it’s a critical issue.”
Councillor Bob Carter, president of the Lake Kashagawigamog Organization, said the issue has come up many times.
“People come and they’re putting lights on their docks, on the rocks outside the properties,” he said. “We had problems last year with the loons who started their season in the dark and then found themselves in a lighted situation, they had to move and abandon their eggs.”
Carter recommended touching base with the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Associations, as CHA has spoken to the issue before. He asked if the CCAC could recommend a bylaw as opposed to staff trying to create one, given the extent of the background of information the CCAC has.
“In the report, I have listed the actual bylaws for Huntsville, Gravenhurst and Muskoka, so that part is already done,” said Walshe. “I think that we have to be careful, there are probably aspects of the building code and things that we might not be as familiar with, so for us to actually tell you what the bylaw should be might not be completely appropriate.”
Sayne pushed for a draft bylaw, which Devolin said was “a couple steps from here.”
“The [International Dark-Sky Association] is very clear about what dark sky bylaws are and what is required,” said Walshe. “It’s an international group and it’s held up by countries all over the world. Most of the other areas that have adopted this have used that as a model.”
“Certainly I would agree with you, but we have to thread the needle,” said Devolin. “Those jurisdictions that have already done that and have done their due diligence will be most helpful.”
“My concern is that sometimes these are just ways that we never get to [an] actual bylaw,” said Sayne. “I don’t want to see us just get reports back, and discussions, and never get to the fact of addressing the issue. I’ve seen that before and I don’t want that to happen in this case, so that’s why I’m pushing that we move forward with a draft, do the research at this point.”
Sayne said she recognized this was the first time staff was being given the direction on the issue, but said she didn’t want to see it postponed like what she said had happened to other concerns brought forward from the committee.
Devolin said projects already put before staff from council were keeping staff busy, without much excess time unless they bumped another project from the list of priorities.
“Councillor Sayne, I would suggest there are multiple councillors in favour of this, so you’re not the only one, I promise, that will be pushing forward,” said Councillor Jennifer Hughey.