Light, Air, and Noise Bylaw Committee

Members: Terms Expire 12/31/20

  • Sherrill Rosoff(Chair)
  • Tim Brothers(Vice-Chair)
  • Renee D’Argento
  • Ronald Karr
  • Patricia Kenneally
  • Mark Little
  • Vince Premus
  • Harvey Serreze
  • Michael Veit

Town of Pepperell Light Air and Noise (LAN) Committee

The Committee’s Charge:

The Board of Selectmen charged the Light Air Noise (LAN) Bylaw committee to examine the town’s current protections against air, light and noise pollution. If the committee’s examination revealed the town required new or updated Bylaws its charge was to draft new Bylaws to address the evident deficits for the Board of Selectmen’s review and final approval at town meeting. 

The committee’s yardstick for determining the need for new bylaws were: are current bylaws up-to-date, in-line with most other surrounding towns and cities, and clear about purpose and enforceability. Further, bylaws addressing these forms of pollution will help prevent environmental catastrophes, give Pepperell better protection if the issue requires litigation, and add a layer of transparency to the enforcement process. 

The Noise Bylaw was passed at Fall Town Meeting on October 21, 2019 with public voting: yeas 182 (82%) and noes 41 (18%). The Outdoor Lighting Bylaw will be voted upon at the 2020 Fall Town Meeting.

PDF of Noise Bylaw: Town of Pepperell - Noise Bylaw 2019 

As with the Noise Bylaw, the LAN committee determined a general bylaw to address the spread of light pollution was preferable to a more narrowly applied zoning bylaw.

PDF of proposed Outdoor Lighting Bylaw: Final Draft of Outdoor Lighting Bylaw

Figure 1 Passing a general bylaw on outdoor lighting to regulate light pollution locally has numerous benefits to the town of Pepperell.

Figure 1 Passing a general bylaw on outdoor lighting to regulate light pollution locally has numerou

Is Light Pollution an Urgent Problem?

Rapid Change

Light pollution, is growing at a rapid pace in the United States, 2.2% per year – making it one of the fastest growing environmental issues.  Massachusetts as a whole is growing more rapidly than the national average and Pepperell in particular, is growing ~6% per year on average (Figure 3).  With this change, it also means stars are disappearing every day from the night sky over Pepperell.  Of all towns and cities in the U.S., we are of the ~15% that can still see the Milky Way.   This is a special feature of our rural town and if we do not act, it will disappear for most residents.   Fortunately, this is also the most easily solvable environmental problem. The proposed Outdoor Lighting Bylaw will require reasonable best practices on future lighting projects as well as good stewardship of our existing nighttime environment.

In Figure 3 (below), we can see from space what Pepperell looks like in terms of energy waste.  Follow this link to explore our regionlight pollution map.

Figure 2 NASA's "Blue Marble" image. This picture taken from space shows how southern New England appears from space. The bright white/yellow regions are the intensity of energy waste in the form of light pollution. The red pin shows where the town of Pepperell resides. Credit: NASA Visible Earth.

Figure 2 NASA's "Blue Marble" image.  This picture taken from space shows how southern New

Figure 3 Light pollution map as seen from space by NASA VIIRS instrument. Note the expansion of heavily light polluted areas near the center of Pepperell, MA (yellow and red) and the dramatic disappearance of dark areas at night (blue and blue/green). Credit: NASA, Earth Observation Group, NOAA National Geophysical Data Center.

Figure 3 Light pollution map as seen from space by NASA VIIRS instrument.  Note the expansion of hea

Consequences 

Light that is not used for a purpose is energy wasted.  For example, a light that has no shielding, is sending 50% of its energy into the sky above. Therefore, when we replace the fixture or add a new one, we should use best practices as outlined by the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s Exterior Lighting policy document

There are also well-documented health effects that need to be considered. From the 2016 American Medical Association report on light pollution, we know that too much light at night, particularly too much blue light, is harmful to human health.  Light at night, a well-established circadian rhythm disruptor, has been strongly linked to sleep disorders, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, breast/prostate/colon cancer and anxiety/depression/bipolar disorder. We also know that the human eye has difficulty in seeing blue light at night – this is dangerous on roadways that are over-lit with blue light and the effect becomes worse as the eyes age.

Figure 4 A broad range of science institutions, medical societies and municpal associations advocate for modern lighting regulations.

Figure 4 A broad range of science institutions, medical societies and municpal associations advocate

Animals also have an internal clock (circadian rhythm) that can easily be disrupted by exposure to light at night.  It can disrupt animal migration patterns, reproduction, hunting for food.  Some pollinators are also affected, which can lead to a reduction in agricultural yields by as much as 13% . Endangered nocturnal creatures such as the firefly are particularly affected – the 2nd largest negative impactor on their population is light pollution.

If you would like a more accessible summary on much of this background material, this National Geographic article is a great place to start.

Where Pepperell Stands 

During our deliberations, several Massachusetts towns were sourced as comparisons, including all adjacent towns to Pepperell.  Pepperells existing zoning references to lighting are comparatively weak, narrow and use terms and definitions that are nonsensical. Consequently, they are largely unenforceable and lack a transparent process for resolving issues for both parties of any dispute.  

Most lighting sold and installed today is not the same technology as what was used decades ago – it makes sense to write new ones that consider current and future lighting technology, as have many towns across the Commonwealth.  

Our committee focused on the four most relevant problem areas in outdoor lighting: light trespass, glare, skyglow and color temperature.

Figure 5 Lighting fixtures, or luminaires, can serve a purpose at night; the image above shows the most common elevated light used at night, the “cobrahead,” found on roadways and in parking lots. This bylaw should prevent most new lighting that would have negative impact adjacent properties and public ways, while also providing a clear procedure for remedying existing problem lights in those areas.

Figure 5 Lighting fixtures, or luminaires, can serve a purpose at night; the image above shows the m

How would it work in practice?

Much of the proposed general bylaw is to prevent negative impacts of future retrofits and installations. Our town will be retrofitting our 400+ streetlights in the next year or two.  By passing sensible guidelines now, we can prevent an increase in light pollution and improve roadway visibility for motorists and pedestrians.  The same principles would be applied to municipal, commercial, industrial and residential situations.  Fortunately, solutions are often quite simple. For example, buying shielded fixtures that do not shine upward is easy now, with most hardware stores and online vendors featuring such lighting at relatively no extra cost.

Figure 6 Some example of acceptable and unacceptable fixtures for new lighting.

Figure 6 Some example of acceptable and unacceptable fixtures for new lighting.

A recent example of what improperly shielded lighting can do was in nearby Shirley where new LED illuminated greenhouses operating 24x7 were turning the sky pink and purple over much of the town.  Or imagine a new industrial site that operates all night long with light that is disturbing the sleep of a nearby neighborhood.  Our bylaw would go a long way preventing these from happening and save money on costly litigation. If these conditions already exist, there are many easy solutions such as redirecting light downward, adding shielding or when appropriate, using a timer/dimmer/motion sensor.

It is reasonable to wonder if this will affect existing residential lighting. If it is new, you will need to conform with most provisions.  If it is existing, even if it does not conform with the spirit of the bylaw, you can keep it, unless it is causing a nuisance to adjacent properties and/or adjacent public ways and someone filed a complaint.  A complaint-driven resolution process can now be in place where it did not exist in our current bylaws. 

Figure 7 A transparent system to address outdoor lighting if it becomes a nuisance. For example, a floodlight that is shining in one's bedroom window at night.

Figure 7 A transparent system to address outdoor lighting if it becomes a nuisance.  For example, a

To minimize energy waste, we wrote a section that pertains to non-residential use after business hours.  In other words, for commercial, industrial and municipal buildings, if lights are left on that do not pertain to safety or security, they should be turned off. It would still require a complaint to initiate a resolution.  The LAN committee considered lighting for the purpose of athletic fields, official town functions, emergencies, etc. and wrote exemptions for these into the Bylaw.

Figure 8 After hours operation. This does not apply to residential.

Figure 8 After hours operation.  This does not apply to residential.

Key Takeaways:

Frequently Asked Questions to view public questions which arose during the course of the committee’s presentations this past Spring. You may find answers to your questions as well as additional information of interest about the committee’s discussions and conclusions.

The LAN committee wishes to thank town boards, committees and commissions that reviewed its various drafts and provided input and advice over the course of the last year.  Town Council also reviewed the final draft version presented here.   Consequently, The Outdoor Lighting Bylaw draft reflects the collective opinions and expertise of our town administration.  

Figure 9 Pepperell has a choice!

Figure 9 Pepperell has a choice!