Sunday, January 21, 2018

Lunenburg Designates Historic Interrogation Zone

A few nights ago I woke up confused.  It felt like the middle of the night, but the light coming through the window was telling me that it must be time to get up.  I got out of bed and looked at the clock...2 am.
My first thought was that there must be a very bright full moon, but then I remembered that the full moon had already passed.  Snow plow? Emergency vehicle? I peeked out the window and noticed, for the first time, a street lamp directly across the street from my home.

No, this is not possible, I thought.  There is no way that the town could be proceeding with the installation of these high intensity, white LED lights after the council meeting of November 28th.  In the morning I called town hall and sure enough, the bulb had been replaced.  Ann, the town clerk, was very sympathetic and told me that she would put in a requisition for a shade.  We'll come back to that shade thing later.

On November 28th, a local resident who was concerned about Lunenburg's plan to install this harsh, bright lighting in the historic district of town gave a very in depth and well researched presentation to council.
She acknowledged that the province has mandated the switch over to LED lights, but wanted to point out that we have the option of choosing the healthier and more historically appropriate soft lighting.  She spoke, at length, about all the known hazards of the harsher lights and begged council to press pause and think about the look they are creating in a national historic town.

In 2016, the American Medical Association issued an official policy statement on the dangers of high intensity LED Lights.  Some of the issues include, reduced visiblilty decreasing driver safety, retina damage and suppressed melatonin.  It is estimated that LED lights have a five times greater impact on circadian sleep rhythms than conventional street lamps.  They are detrimental to the health of birds, bats and turtles and they reduce the ability to see the night sky.  They are also just plain ugly. That last item is not in the AMA's report. A recent Harvard study also connects higher breast cancer rates in areas with higher light levels at night.

It is recommended that communities choose LED lights that limit the amount of blue light.  The lighting should have a colour temperature  rating that does not exceed 3000.  The bulbs Lunenburg is using have a colour temperature rating between 4000-5000 kelvin.

So, Lunenburg council heard this presentation and everyone smiled politely. Thank you for your research, thank you for being a concerned citizen .  We will safely file your report in  file 13 (AKA the trash can in our CAO's office). What became evident at that council meeting was that the lights had already been purchased.  It all comes down to fiscal responsibility, right?  Lunenburg has decided that being financially prudent is more important than the health and safety of its residents.

I know, I know....such statements are no way to change hearts and minds, but you try playing nice after a week of a high beam shining through your window at night.  I'm tired and cranky and very resentful that a decision that is detrimental to our well being has been made on our behalf in the name of saving a few bucks.

Let me take a brief moment to address the town's response before they have made it.  The shields.  Yes, there are shields which can help to minimize the glare.  That is all they do.  They don't minimize the health effects or the harsh light.  It was interesting that when I called the town, a requisition was put in for a shield.  These lights should never be installed without a shield.  I guess this is another money saving strategy.  Only residents who ask for one will get one. 

But I'm not quite done.  Although I am plenty outraged by the health and safety impacts of these high intensity lamps, there's a whole other issue here. This high intensity white light is not appropriate for a residential neighbourhood, let alone a Unesco Heritage neighbourhood.

Our land use bylaw is chock full of rules to ensure that a reasonable level of peace and tranquility is maintained in a residential zone.

Take this rule, for example, that pertains to Home Based Businesses (second one down):

 h) the use shall not emit noise, odour, dust, light, or radiation that would be a nuisance or is uncustomary in a residential neighbourhood.

or this one:

 Why do we have these rules?  Because when people choose to live in an exclusively residential zone, there is a reasonable expectation that they will not have to experience the noise, light or odour that is to be expected in a commercial or industrial zone.  That's why we have zoning.  Oh, no, here we go again....

Lunenburg has just installed lighting that might be appropriate on highway 103... in the residential zone.

Can you tell I'm upset?  But it's not just me.  Several of my neighbours are also irate and it turns out that a group of residents in Monterey, California just successfully sued their government for the very same issue.

I know it's probably difficult for most residents of Lunenburg to match my level of outrage.  That's because this change is happening very slowly and very sporadically.  One light here, one light there.  It's hard to feel upset about a problem that isn't impacting you.  If you want to get a feel for the situation, ask a friend or loved one to shine their high beams in your bedroom window at night. Or better yet, come take an evening stroll on my block, Lawrence st. between Duke and King and check out the ambience for yourself.  Make sure to bring your passport and don't be surprised if you hear, "Price Check on aisle five." coming from a loud speaker.

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