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Bright lights, small city concern some trustees

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P&Z discussing issue Nov. 12

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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As Carbondale officials work on revisions to the town’s lighting code in response to concerns about LED lighting on signs, a couple of local establishments in particular have been cited as examples of why the changes are needed — the sign for the Faith Lutheran Church at 1340 Highway 133, and the lights at the Planted Earth nursery business on Highway 82.

Two members of the Carbondale Board of Trustees — Frosty Merriott and Katrina Byars — have specifically pointed to the church sign as an example of the reason for their concerns, and have mentioned that they are worried that further use of LED lights might add to the town’s growing worries about light pollution.

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And Merriott confirmed that the lighting at Planted Earth, located outside the city limits along Highway 82, also has caused him concern.

“I know they’re outside the town limits and all,” Merriott said, noting that the business would not be affected by the town’s lighting code in any way.

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But, he said, “It is one of those same signs (using LED technology), it’s out on the highway, in the middle of a real dark space, and I think it’s distracting to drivers. It’s really bright.”

Neither the church nor Planted Earth responded to requests for comment for this story.

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The “lights” themselves in LEDs are not bulbs in any traditional sense, but are formally called “light-emitting diodes.” They have been trumpeted as the newest type of energy efficient, cost-saving lighting available for everything from homes and businesses to public lighting along streets and in parks, among other uses.

“As solid-state semiconductors, they’re more akin to the processor in your smart phone than the lamp overhead,” stated a 2014 article in Forbes magazine, which went on to note that a number of large cities around the globe “are deploying LEDs in an attempt to solve most, if not all, of the problems created by inefficient traditional lamps.”

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The LEDs, according to government and private-sector analysts, are more expensive up-front than more traditional lighting technology, but they provide considerably more light (measured in lumens) and last far longer than older types of lighting such as incandescent bulbs and high-pressure sodium bulbs (the kind used in many streetlights), according to the Forbes article and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

“Residential LEDs — especially ENERGY STAR rated products — use at least 75 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting,” states a DOE website, energy.gov.

The website goes on to describe the savings represented by switching to LED lighting over more conventional technology, and makes the claim that a massive switch to LED lighting all across the U.S. could reduce electricity demand in the realm of 44 large electric power plants.

Negative effects

But critics counter that LED lighting contributes massively to light pollution, interfering with human enjoyment of the night skies and potentially having negative effects on human behavior and on wildlife, affecting everything from hunting habits of nocturnal predators to altered migratory patterns of birds and other animals.

While the LED lights in some applications are shielded to prevent leakage of light to the sides and upward, said LED critic Bob King in a 2014 article on the Universe Today website (www.universetoday.com), other applications are completely unshielded.

The benefits of using LED technology “ultimately guarantee their proliferation in ornamental, building and parking lot illumination,” said King, a resident of Duluth, Minn., where LED lighting is becoming common place.

“Much of that lighting is unshielded and heavy on glare,” King continued, “making driving at night more difficult, wasting energy and [making] preserving what dark sky remains more challenging.”

In a March, 2015 article in the New York Times, residents of Brooklyn complained that new LED lighting in their neighborhoods were sending blasts of bright light into their homes, forcing them to hang up heavier curtains to keep the light out and get to sleep at night.

One woman reported taping black trash bags over her windows so she could sleep.

In Carbondale, a number of residents have expressed concerns about the town’s increasing nighttime glow from businesses and homes, which is part of why the town is revising the lighting code.

And Merriott, responding to the fact that the town’s current lighting code does not specifically address the issues raised by LED lighting, recently told The Sopris Sun, “We don’t need five, or 10 or 20 of these (LED concentrations) in Carbondale.”

The town Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing on the draft revisions to the lighting ordinance at Town Hall, 511 Colorado at 7 p.m. on Nov. 12.

Copies of the proposed ordinance are to be on file and open for public review in the Planning Department office at Town Hall.

Published in The Sopris Sun on November 5, 2015.

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