Dim the Lights, Not the Law

   According to the key contributor to East Hampton Town’s 2006 dark-skies lighting code, East Hampton Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley is confused about a draft revision of those regulations. While stopping short of accusing her and Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson of lying, Susan Harder says she checked with an architect who supposedly was consulted on the revisions, and he told her that as far as he knew, he had nothing to do with it. The question of who said what to whom — or did not — obscures the central issue, which is just why and on whose behalf the Republican majority on the town board decided to mess with the lighting law in the first place.
    Attempts to improve 1970s-era protections of the quality of the night sky date back about a decade in East Hampton Town and have their origins in an almost-one-woman effort by Ms. Harder. In 2002, she asked, “Why can’t we get the night sky declared a scenic resource?” After a couple of years’ work, the town as well as East Hampton Village did just that. In the village, a 2004 law that requires lights to be shielded and not directed upward was passed without a fuss. East Hampton Town strengthened its lighting code in 2006, also with minimal complaint. “Keep that lurid orange glow to the west of us,” seemed the consensus.
    However, by 2010, when the last recalcitrant business owners were supposed to comply with the law’s generous “sunset” provisions on offending fixtures, it became a problem. Suddenly, there were objections: The rules supposedly were difficult to understand and compliance would result in inadequate outdoor safety. While the complaints may have been sincere, it is probably more than coincidence that the beefs emerged only when the affected business owners were about to have to pony up for required changes.
    Dark skies, or “smart-lighting” rules like those in place here, are important for several reasons. They preserve the view of the stars and allow for a welcome distinction between night and day when the sky is overcast. Animals — and people — are said to do better when night is night and day is day. An unobscured view of the heavens, if you take a metaphysical view, helps remind us of our place in the universe and encourages study and understanding of the mysteries of the heavens.
     Ms. Quigley appears to be spearheading an effort to completely undermine the East Hampton Town lighting code. As we have editorialized before, if the cost of compliance is the objection for a handful of business owners, the town might offer a bounty on outdated fixtures. Though reasonable adjustments to some of the language in the law may be warranted, there should be no wholesale dumping of the existing regulations.