Denton officials have temporarily halted a program to install LED lights on residential streets after council members expressed concerns about their use.
“I hope we can come up with an intelligent approach that addresses very important … safety concerns but at the same time shields the night sky above from light pollution and uses some smart technology that can adjust during peak bird migration times,” at-large Place 6 Denton City Council member Paul Meltzer said. “I think staff is being very thoughtful and reaching out to knowledgeable authorities to help formulate a plan.”
The Denton Record-Chronicle on Jan. 8 reported that two scientists — Diana Leggett and James Bednarz, a conservation biologist at the University of North Texas — said the $4 million project to replace high-pressure sodium bulbs typically used to illuminate large outdoor areas is adversely affecting migratory birds.
On Jan. 17, at-large Place 5 council member Deb Armintor emailed staff members about proposing a 1-minute pitch during a council meeting for a moratorium on the Denton Municipal Electric project “until a solution can be found to proactively prevent the negative effects of LED light pollution on all residential neighborhoods and local bird populations.”
She also told the newspaper she is “thrilled to hear back that they had already recently paused it for precisely that reason.”
In September 2019, council members approved the purchase of LED lights to replace high-pressure sodium lights. That work began in February 2020. About 8,800 streetlights are in the city system.
Leggett said she is “thrilled” the city has temporarily stopped the project.
“But I just don’t know what their plan is,” she said.
Responding to Armintor’s request, Stuart Birdsong, assistant to City Manager Todd Hileman, said the program was “paused” on Jan. 11.
“And [we] are only replacing burned-out bulbs with the LEDs as they are requested by residents,” he wrote. “Staff is currently gathering information and best practices about the LED lights, including issues that you mention in your email, and plan to bring that information to council in a future work session to be able to discuss with council and receive direction. We will update you on the scheduling of this work session in an upcoming Friday report.”
Bednarz told the Record-Chronicle earlier this month that some lighting — and too much of it — changes the migration of birds, especially here, and that they are naturally attracted to light and often become disoriented. At the same time, Leggett said Denton “just completely undid the flyway going from the Arctic” when officials began installing blue lights “that illuminate hundreds of yards.”
District 3 council member Jesse Davis said he looks forward to that discussion.
A flyway is the path migratory birds take while traveling from one region to another.
“The [Jan. 8] story has a fair amount of expertise and data presented,” Davis said. “A pause makes sense to reevaluate the project. It’s the responsible thing to do.”
About 3,800 lights have been replaced since council members’ approval in 2019. Leggett has said she is part of the national Lights Out program that advocates for the reduction of light pollution by building owners during migration periods. She and Bednarz said birds help reduce the mosquito population. They also pollinate plants, spread seeds and contribute in other ways to the ecosystem.
“I’m looking forward to having a work session on it,” District 4 member John Ryan said. “When we first started talking about LED lighting to replace the current types of lighting, they were supposed to be dimmable remotely. If we went to a different type, that is a concern for me. They are supposed to be smart lights.”
A work session on the project has not yet been scheduled.