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    Local News
    Tuesday, April 16, 2024

    Lights Out Connecticut asks Montville to take the lead on ‘lights out’ rule

    Montville ― Turn off the lights!

    That sentiment could become a familiar refrain in town to protect migratory birds and people’s peace of mind if Lights Off Connecticut has its way.

    The Guilford-based conservation group has recommended that the town council either set a curfew for use of non-essential lights on town-owned properties or pass a rule that would protect property owners from having neighbors’ lights shine into their yards.

    Craig Repasz and Meredith Barges, co-chairs of Lights Out Connecticut, presented the recommendations to the council last week while touting the numerous benefits of turning off lights, including the town saving money on its electricity bills and protecting migrating birds and other wildlife.

    “For us, it’s just like ― a win across the board,” Barges said Wednesday.

    Lights Out Connecticut, part of the Menunkatuck Audubon Society, is a nonprofit organization that advocates to reduce the negative impacts of light pollution on migratory birds.

    In the letter to the council, the two options it recommended were either a light trespass rule ― which would prevent encroachment, or “trespassing,” of residents’ lights into their neighbors’ yards ― or a light curfew rule, which would impose a time that lights on town properties be shut off.

    “It really relates to unnecessary lighting being turned off either an hour after the close of a business or at a given time around 11 o’clock or 12 o’clock,” Barges said of the curfew.

    She said transition to a light curfew could involve installing motion sensors or timers. Nick Sabilia, a councilor who serves as liaison to the energy commission, had asked the group to make the presentation. He said installing such features would be a good place to start.

    “It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s not going to break the bank either. And we do have properties like Camp Oakdale, the tennis courts and the schools, and they’re lit up all night long,” he said.

    Barges said the town’s zoning code does not have any rules about nighttime lights, adding that if it did implement light curfews, Montville would be first in the state to do so and a leader for “taking light pollution seriously.”

    “The town of Greenwich is working on it right now,” she said. “They’re aiming to be the first, but we haven’t seen it yet.”

    The group led a campaign for a new bipartisan state law that was effective Jan. 1. It mandates that state-owned buildings shut off any non-essential outdoor lighting ― meaning lights not deemed essential to safety or functionality, or otherwise determined by a state agency head ― between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

    “It’s a relatively new law,” said Barges. “But we think there’s room for other towns to adopt rules like this.”

    Other towns, she said, have established light trespass laws, including Canton and Old Lyme.

    Benefits of reducing lighting

    Kaitlyn Parkins, glass collisions program coordinator for the Washington, D.C.-based American Bird Conservancy, said leaving lights on can pose many threats to birds.

    She said lights on a building or communication tower can lead to a deadly collision. Indirectly, the lights can attract nocturnally migrating birds to “stop over,” a term for birds that are landing to rest, refuel and get energy.

    But while stopping over is a natural process for the migrating birds, artificial lights can lead them to stop in places that have a lot of glass buildings or other infrastructure dangerous to them, or to habitats that might have high populations of free-roaming predators such as cats, or insufficient food, Parkins said.

    “These are just examples of things that can happen when birds are lured by light into our urban areas,” she said, adding the light can also be detrimental for breeding or nesting birds.

    While Parkins mostly works with birds, she stressed that effects from artificial light are “not limited to one species or taxonomic group,” citing plants, insects, turtles, bats as other examples.

    She said many plants rely on nocturnal pollinators.

    Bats, which are pollinators, can adjust their movement patterns to avoid well-lit areas, which can lead to exposure to predators, Parkins said. Insects have shown population decline from artificial light, she said.

    “There are even negative effects on human health,” she said. “In this case, what’s good for wildlife is also good for people.”

    Security concerns

    Barges said the main reason that people and towns might push back on implementing policies that reduce nighttime lights is that they consider lack of light to be a security risk.

    “But we have a lot of unnecessary light. Light should be targeted ― when we need it, where we need it,” she said, adding that more lights being on does not necessarily make people safer.

    “We have a lot of cultural baggage around light and dark,” she said. “We have to look at it and think about why we think light is good.”

    Council Chairman Tim May said the presentation had been intended to get information to residents about how beneficial it’d be to shut their lights off at night.

    “I just think it’s something that we could do,” he said Wednesday.

    d.drainville@theday.com

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