Working Towards A Progressive Future...
STONE RIDGE – The curse of greater-than-needed outdoor illumination on neighbors and whole neighborhoods is something that those who suffer it can talk about at length. These days, planning boards are extremely careful about exterior lighting for new and refitted buildings... But it was not always so. Street lights in many of our towns remain an example of too much light, and energy, carelessly distributed.
In Marbletown, they've been tackling this issue and discovering some minor embarrassments. But also working to ready themselves for a more energy-efficient and neighborhood-sensitive approach to lighting, according to supervisor Michael Warren.
"We've surveyed every single street light in the town, where they are, what they're doing, and what the wattage or power consumption is. One thing we found was that a lot of people don't like them. Another thing is that they don't meet Dark Sky standards," he said. "For years we've had neighborhoods complaining about these huge moon globes we have and now we're getting them replaced, going from 400 watt sodium lamps to 80 watt LEDs. We save money on the electric bill, and they're more efficient in every way and dark sky compliant."
Two years ago, Governor Cuomo signed a "Healthy, Safe and Energy Efficient Outdoor Lighting Act" that set new standards for exterior lights designed to cut out light leaking above the horizontal plane of the fixture. Beyond that the state is now examining roadway lighting in a "passive first" way: If a stretch of road doesn't have an intersection, then all it will need will be reflective signs and road surfaces. This represents a huge shift in the thinking about exterior lighting... and also starts to draw governmentally-set standards closer to those suggested by the International Dark Sky Association, a non-profit formed in 1988 "to preserve and protect the night time environment and our heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting" that's been effective at preserving night-sky spots around the nation and globe.
"We disconnected our first ten streetlights but we also found we had a number of lights that hadn't been on in years. No one had complained about them being off, so nobody bothered to fix them. We even found one that was lying down in a field," Warren continued, acknowledging his own town's efforts to restore an ageless sense of night sky to itself. "Anyway, every light is on a numbered pole and we matched their numbers with the Central Hudson list. It was eye opening. We found that we were paying not just for the lights that hadn't been on in years, but even for lights that never existed, or don't exist now."
Just goes to show what turns up when you start looking into things, Warren noted.
"It's the town's responsibility. We need to be sure we know what we're paying for," the supervisor added, bringing the issues at hand back to the sort of dollars and cents parameters many like to see their government working within. "We made sure that we got the lights turned back on in areas that are dangerous. And Central Hudson installed LED lights, which produce a much tighter area of illumination... We added a light at the junction of Tongore Road and Route 209 that shines just on that intersection and doesn't disturb the neighbors."
Next up, Warren added, will be his town's central community of Stone Ridge.
"We are looking there; some of the lights in Stone Ridge are redundant. And we are working with Central Hudson about the lights we are going to keep," he concluded. "We have a priority list now to get LEDs in places where we still need the safety of outdoor lights, even though Central Hudson assures us they will eventually replace all sodium lamps with LEDS."
The move to greater efficiency continues at the new Rondout Municipal Center in Cottekill, too. "We've already done it in this building," Warren said from his offices there. "All our lights are LED, including the exterior lights. We had a grant from NYSERDA for this, and all the lights are directional with no light leakage out of the areas meant to be lit."
Warren added that credit must be extended to Tom Konrad, head of the Marbletown Environmental Conservation Commission.
"Tom and the others did a fabulous job on this," he said. "They're helping lead us all forward into becoming a municipal leader in many areas."