Southold embraces dark skies, institutes pooper-scooper law

The Town Board has adopted new legislation aimed at preventing artificial light from spoiling views of the night sky, such as the moon rising over Cutchogue Harbor in New Suffolk.

Two new laws aimed at reducing pollution in Southold Town received unanimous approval from the Town Board Tuesday last week.

The first will protect the night sky from light pollution and the second is a pooper-scooper law that requires dog owners to remove their pet’s feces from all properties in town, both public and private, unless they have the permission of the property owner to allow them to remain.

The board amended the pooper-scooper law proposal to expressly forbid people from leaving behind dog poop at town beaches and parks.

A chorus of supporters spoke at the public hearing for the lighting law, which requires property owners planning new construction and renovations to incorporate full cut-off lighting fixtures in their plans. Those fixtures have recessed bulbs that focus all their light on the ground, shielding the night sky. The law was first proposed by the town’s renewable energy committee in 2008.

On the new pooper scooper law, only Cutchogue resident Benja Schwartz spoke at the public hearing before the vote. He asked why traffic control officers were not given the authority to cite people for violations.

On the lighting law, there was a chorus of supporters.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea. Apart from energy conservation issues, migratory birds are terribly confused by excess lighting,” said Dr. Nancy Pierson of Southold. “As our hamlet becomes more and more populated, it’s important that other people’s lights don’t disturb our sleeping ability.”

Anne Hopkins of Orient said that she spoke on behalf of many residents who offered their wholehearted support.

“I would like to encourage the town to publicize the changes,” she said. “I had a problem with a neighbor with very bright lights. He did modify them somewhat.”

She added that, though the law permits the lighting of flagpoles at night, she would prefer residents to take their flags down at sunset.

Aaron Virgin, vice president of the Group for the East End, offered his organization’s services in preparing an educational pamphlet on the new light law.

He said that his 2-year-old daughter’s insistence that the stars were much brighter here than farther up island highlighted the importance of preserving rural dark skies.

“We just moved here from Oyster Bay. You’d think we had moved here from Manhattan,” he said.

Barbara Lebkuecher, treasurer of the Custer Institute observatory in Southold, praised the board for enacting a law that would help the institute’s mission of providing free public viewing of the night sky.

“It’s really urgent that we keep the skies as dark as we can,” she said.

Some residents questioned the town’s decision not to require all property owners to bring their lighting into compliance within a specified number of years. The town is requiring only that people make their lights compliant when they come in for a major building permit or for site plan review. With the new code come penalties of $150 for residential violators and $750 for commercial violations.

“We’ve been trying the educational approach. There are a few offenders. Code enforcement should be addressing that,” said Supervisor Scott Russell. “There’s nothing like oil at $100 a barrel to get people to comply with dark sky codes.”

Violators of the new pooper-scooper law will face a $250 fine if they are caught not cleaning up after their dogs.

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