Southold Town plans to asks businesses to help maintain dark skies

Southold Town plans to send informational letters and placards to several hardware businesses that are selling lighting outside of town code. 

The letters are just “a heads up” on town code, Town Board member Sarah Nappa said at a Tuesday work session. Southold Town has exterior lighting restrictions designed to limit light pollution. The Dark Skies Coalition helped write the letters, Ms. Nappa said, and has also requested including exterior lighting code in building department applications.

Town Board member Jill Doherty pointed out that it’s not the business’s responsibility if a customer buys and uses the wrong light bulbs. 

Ms. Nappa suggested sending informational placards on heavier cardstock, as educational materials for businesses around town. The letters and placards will be reviewed by the chief building inspector to make sure communications accurately represent town code. 

A letter draft included in Tuesday’s agenda packet requests businesses to help protect dark skies by “only selling fixtures and light bulbs that can legally be installed within the Town of Southold, posting the enclosed placards on the shelves where lightbulbs and fixtures are sold and near the displays where light fixtures are displayed, as well as educating customers about Southold Town’s exterior lighting code during your sales conversations.”

The letter continues to outline the town’s exterior lighting code and enforcement, noting that the town’s “exterior lighting law promotes safety for people and wildlife, conserves energy, reduces carbon footprint, and preserves the aesthetic qualities of the night sky.”

The draft notes that letters may be sent to Revco, Riverhead Building, Southold Hardware, Cutchogue Hardware, Orlowski True Value, Home Depot in Riverhead and Lowes in Riverhead. 

A separate draft, outlining town lighting code, is meant for electricians, security and landscaping companies in town. The letter requests that they only install “fixtures and light sources that are in accordance with the local law” and educate customers about the town’s exterior lighting code.

Laura Klahre, owner of Blossom Meadow Farm and chair of the Dark Skies Coalition, told The Suffolk Times that the letters were written jointly by the coalition and Ms. Nappa. She said the Town Board started discussing ways to enforce exterior lighting code back in February. 

“It’s great that Southold Town Board is really starting to take action,” she said. “It’s beautiful out here. The dark sky is a wonderful natural resource that we’ve all kind of taken for granted at this point. The North Fork is one of the last places where you can really see the Milky Way.”

She said the Dark Sky Coalition, a volunteer group started in 2020, is part of an international effort to protect against light pollution. “The Town Board has really taken a lead in all this,” she said. 

On a similar note, Ms. Nappa said at the work session that PSEG Long Island has installed utility pole lights brighter than permitted by Southold’s dark skies code. The electric company has also installed lighting that’s too bright in Southampton, Ms. Nappa said. 

“Since these are state roads and I know the Dark Sky Coalition is trying to work with the state separately of getting the town involved, but I know that Southampton did write a formal letter to PSEG asking them to change bulbs because they’re not within town [code],” Ms. Nappa said.

An official from the town planning department, who was present at the work session, said utility pole lights were recently converted to LEDs that are “way beyond” town restrictions and “cause a lot of light pollution.” Southampton has been successfully working to have the lights removed, the official noted. 

Deputy town attorney John Burke said the town has been in touch with PSEG, although he’s not sure what the most recent communications were. The Town Board intends to send a letter reiterating the message.