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Friday, February 3, 2023
FairfaxOpinionCommentary: Vienna needs to update thinking on light pollution

Commentary: Vienna needs to update thinking on light pollution

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by EILEEN KRAGIE, Founder, Dark Sky Friends

As the Vienna town government begins the process of updating its town codes and ordinances, last written in 1969, outdoor lighting is on the agenda.

Vienna is surrounded by Fairfax County, whose leaders have made light pollution one of their environmental goals for years and are currently in the public-hearing stage of creating a new and environmentally sounder zone around the observatory at Turner Farm Park in Great Falls.

By improving the ordinances for the use of responsible outdoor light at night, the county’s leaders recognized the massive toll the growth of light pollution is taking on all of our lives, including those of all of the creatures that live among us.

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Moreover, the loss of the pristine night skies that once blanketed the county is not only a loss to astronomers and each and every resident of the county, but also its loss impacts the nocturnal creatures and nocturnal plants, interrupting and changing their circadian rhythms.

During the spring and fall, the migration of the birds traversing this country is severely impacted by all of the artificial lights that have spread across this area, region and country.

Light pollution is growing at twice the rate of the population. The sheer waste of energy is exorbitant and a national-security issue.

One does not have to go far to find egregious examples of light pollution and light trespass in Vienna.

Westwood Country Club has been leaving on every light on the back of the club for years. The lights trespass well across the property, Creek Crossing Road and into the park on the other side of the road.

The homes on East Street all sport unshielded fixtures that trespass well beyond each owner’s property boundaries. Here on East Street you will find a prime example of a home where double spotlights have been installed on each corner.

Instead of keeping the illumination contained within its own property, the light serves to create a blinding glare for drivers, pedestrians and creatures alike. And there are homes there whose unshielded lights trespass into the fragile parkland that they abut and, even more, trespass well into other private-property owners’ yards and homes. Additionally, they are not motion-activated, so they remain on all night.

Ayr Hill Ave., N.E., is another classic example of the overuse, and silly use, of landscape lighting. The lighting severely affects the plants, trees and nocturnal creatures, including the nocturnal pollinators, particularly when left on all night long. (You are not using the yard, why are the lights on?)

I do not have a right to trespass onto your property. Why are your lights allowed to trespass onto mine and public space? This includes the common sky, which a view of the stars and other celestial objects is our birthright.

As the town government begins this process of updating its codes, it must apply the principles of responsible outdoor light at night. It must begin and continue the education process and outreach for the public and residents.

Fairfax County is well along in addressing this issue, but much more work needs to be done across the county to protect residents from light trespass and sky glow.

We must return to the courteous and kind neighborly practices of turning off our outdoor lights at night at a reasonable hour, say 9 p.m. The wasteful and harmful practice of leaving lights on all night must simply stop.

Light trespass must be made part and parcel of the new town codes to protect residents of the town and residents of Fairfax County whose properties abut the town limits. Otherwise, a very, very expensive legal recourse is the only option for those whose lives are dangerously impacted by another’s trespassing light.

And this does not apply only to homeowners. Businesses must become intimately engaged in managing their own lights at night.

Mill Street is another classic example of too many and too bright of white and unshielded lights at night.

Crime and safety is often given as the excuse for lighting properties like prison yards, and that simply must stop. The technology exists for dimmable, programmable and targetable lighting, not to mention the advances in very inexpensive video capabilities that deliver a notice instantaneously to the property owner when the device is activated, not to mention sending an accompanying video.

The time for the elimination of dangerous, wasteful and inconsiderate outdoor lighting is now.

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