Bright night

HELL HATH NO FURY like a rugby player who fears being driven from the field by NIMBY complaints over bright lights shining in sleepless neighbors' windows. The Seattle Parks Department, which is expanding and organizing its haphazard playfield operations, stepped on a lot of cleated toes when it proposed keeping baseball and softball fields lit till 10:45 p.m. and switching off the lights at soccer and rugby fields at 10. (There is logic behind that discrepancy: Baseball and softball games run longer.) The Board of Parks Commissioners subsequently held a hearing in an Olympic-sized armory to accommodate all the irate soccer and rugby players and other aggrieved parties. One after another testified to the life-changing importance of their sport and to the meagerness of the city's provision for them. Several dozen women rugby players stomped out after announcing they were forming a political action committee. The commissioners have received hundreds of impassioned e-mails—some from light-struck residents and dark-skies advocates, most from sports boosters—over playfield lighting.

It's kind of reassuring that, terrorists or not, citizens can still have a classic Seattle snit over something like playfields. And the big-ball-sports players have a point: Seattle has too few soccer/rugby fields, and keeping them lit later might allow a second game each evening. The commissioners will likely make concessions when they weigh the plan this Thursday.

But light-struck neighbors have a point, too. And underlying the rumble over playfield lights is a broader, emergent environmental concern. Astronomers, who watch their hobby or profession getting washed out by runaway nighttime glow, have led the charge against light pollution. But research has also found baleful effects on human endocrine and circadian systems, and on the migration and mating of wildlife ranging from moths and songbirds to frogs and lake plankton.

The Parks Department's 2001 Ballfield Lighting Study notes light-spill and trespass issues. But Parks officials nevertheless plan to light four new ballfields at Lower Woodland Park nearly twice as brightly as it does most other diamonds, and to use the same high-powered bulbs that emit so much glare, and draw so many complaints, at Interbay. It will also install conventional parabolic lights, which produce more glare and pollute more than the "full-cutoff" lights that dark-sky defenders recommend, at Lower Woodland.

One of those defenders, Bruce Weertman, suggests a sensible-sounding measure for all playfields: Instead of having lights come on automatically and shut off at preset times, they should be turned on only for games and shut off right afterward. That would suit players and spare neighbors from unnecessary light blazing down on unused fields on off-nights.


Were you appalled at the charges of Enron-style accounting scams by local seafood processors, especially UniSea, in Kevin Fullerton's eye-opening account ("Fishy Accounting," April 18)? Consider then that John Iani, UniSea's general counsel and vice president from 1993 to 2001, is now the Environmental Protection Agency's Northwest regional director. That's not a surprising appointment for an administration that installed the former vice chairman of Enron Energy Services as secretary of the army, and decided polluters shouldn't pay to clean up the Superfund messes they create. Before, Iani fought to get more pollock for processors and less for endangered Steller sea lions. Now he's a point man for the Bush agenda of making peace with business at any price. . . . This column was unfair to government wildlife biologists and lynx protectors. In my last column, I compared several biologists "finding" bogus lynx-hair samples to the administration's science-traducing ways. But a Forest Service investigation confirmed that the biologists did it not to rig the system but merely to test a suspect lab.

Eric Scigliano's environment column appears every other week.

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