As the shortest day of the year approaches, it is a good time to take stock of how the area is doing in keeping the sky dark at night. Gauging this is a largely subjective matter. By one measure, East Hampton Town has been able to maintain its view of the stars. Yet there appears to be more light leaking into the sky than ever before, and familiar pockets of brightness have gotten bigger and brighter.
For residents and visitors, dark night skies are one of the charms of the East End. For wildlife, too much light at night can alter reproduction and feeding and reduce protection from predators. For humans, it disrupts sleep rhythm, which has both emotional and health effects. Glare from poorly designed or improperly installed fixtures can create road hazards, especially for aging eyes. Then there is the issue of power use. In a time when we should be reducing our use of electricity to help slow climate change, unnecessary lighting is counterproductive. Thankfully, our area is one of the few remaining places on the Northeast coast where artificial illumination is not night’s defining attribute. But this is not assured over the long term.
The general tilt of the rules is intended to eliminate glare and keep light from “trespassing” beyond property lines by directing it downward. Tree “uplighting” no later than midnight and glare-free landscape fixtures are allowed, within certain brightness limits, but illuminating the side of a house, say, is not. Driveway post fixtures cannot be brighter than about that of a 25-watt incandescent bulb. Most lighting must be “warm,” or less than about 3,000 degrees Kelvin, depending on the municipality. Focusing spotlights on noncommercial flags and holiday lights of limited duration are allowed as well. But local laws to limit light pollution have had varying impact, largely because of indifference to enforcement.
Clear and dark skies help define our area. They are something worth fighting to preserve.