This fountain lit up Laura Stepney’s 17th floor apartment in Surrey. (Submitted photo)

This fountain lit up Laura Stepney’s 17th floor apartment in Surrey. (Submitted photo)

Surrey urged to address light pollution after fountain lit up 17th floor condo

A Surrey resident wants city council to ‘lead the way’ in light pollution as city continues to grow

SURREY — Six months after moving to Surrey, Laura Stepney said her “entire apartment suddenly turned purple.”

Purple, because of light emanating from a water fountain that ran 24 hours a day from a nearby Park Avenue development. It had just been turned on at the nearby condo as occupants began to fill the building, located at 13696 100th Ave.

Even 17 stories up in her Park Place tower in Whalley, Stepney said the light made it difficult to sleep.

After filing a bylaw complaint to the city, the light was turned off from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.

“I thought, this is damaging my property value,” she said.

“It started off just being annoying, I can’t sleep at night… and turned into more of a concern about the city as a whole.”

After doing research, Stepney discovered the bright coloured light going into the sky is “terrible for the environment.”

She started a petition, which has garnered close to 200 signatures. It explains the three main areas of light pollution are ramifications on human health, the animals in the sky, and the issue of losing the night sky.

“For human health, the biggest issue is it messes with circadian rhythms,” she explained. “You can get black out curtains but you shouldn’t have to. The city should be considering that from the beginning with the design, instead of people having to react and protect themselves.”

One study, which she found through the Surrey Library, found that people living in metropolitan areas with lots of nighttime lights went to bed later and awoke earlier than others.

“So they were more fatigued during the day,” she said. “Fatigue leads to lower job performance, more car accidents, it affects your whole quality of life getting less sleep.”

Stepney is equally concerned about environmental affects.

The Park Avenue fountain, at 13696 100th Ave. (Photo submitted)

“Lighting at night affects bird migration, because the light confuses the birds,” she said. “There’s an ongoing study in New York on the Twin Towers monument. There are two high powered beams of lights where the towers used to stand and they’re noticing that when birds migrate through that area, they linger around the columns of light longer than they normally linger, it’s confusing their patterns.”

The Washington Post published a story on Oct. 2 about a study that found between 2008 and 2016, roughly 1.1 million migrating birds were affected by the Tribute in Light installation.

The articles notes that”for some, the attraction was fatal: Unable to escape the thrall of the beams, the birds became disoriented and exhausted by hours of mindless spiraling flight. Some simply fell to the ground; others were more likely to strike buildings when the sun rose and they could finally fly away.”

But the story notes the artists say they’ve found a way to free the birds from the light column spell, which could guide other efforts to protect creatures that fly by night.

Stepney wants to see Surrey enact bylaws that deal with light pollution for all of these reasons.

“I’d like to go into city hall and meet personally with a councillor and discuss this, and see if they have thought about this at all, or if they have plans on the back burner, to get light ordinances put in place,” she said.

It’s not unprecedented.

In 2003, Delta council asked staff to review all light emission issues at Delta’s sports fields, school properties and more.

The report notes light pollution issues are “relatively easy to mitigate through improvements in lighting technology and proper lighting management.”It mentions using high efficiency light sources, using shields to prevent light being projected skyward, and adjusting the angle, layout and height of lights to avoid light pollution.

And in 2015, Vancouver councillor Elizabeth Ball brought the issue of light pollution to the surface, with a motion calling for “dark sky” legislation that would limit the amount of light in the sky at night.

Stepney hopes Surrey follows suit, and follows through.

“I really want to emphasize that the reason I’m so concerned about this is because Surrey in the larger context, is a very young city,” she said.

“Surrey it’s developing very, very quickly. Surrey has this amazing opportunity that other cities didn’t have – to look at larger cities that have these issues and learn to do things differently…. Surrey could definitely lead the way and lead by example on this issue.”

Adding to Stepney’s concern is a planned Concord Pacific tower that would light up in sync with SkyTrain at King George Station.

See more: VIDEO: Watch how illuminated Surrey tower will light up in sync with SkyTrain

In her State of the City Address, Mayor Linda Hepner said this project is one of several she intends to “fast track.”

Hepner said the tower will be 41 stories tall and that “the LED lighting will be carefully planned with the City and programmed to respect the environments of residents and neighbours.”

A rendering of Concord Pacific’s interactive illuminated tower that will light up when SkyTrains arrive at King George Station. (Photo: Concord Pacific)

Stepney said if built, that light will come through her window everyday, and wonders how late the light would be allowed.

“I don’t want them not to build the project,” she explained. “I would like them to reconsider lighting and creating lighting more respectful of the environment and the people who live around it.”

Stepney said she’s not “radical” and certainly isn’t asking all lights be turned off.

Instead, she’s calling for better lighting design.

“You can have safe, lit places. It doesn’t have to be pointed up,” said Stepney.

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada is equally concerned about the issue, and has launched a Light-Pollution Abatement Program which aims to “reduce the levels of light pollution in urban and rural areas by advising Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments and departments along with business and concerned citizens to take action to reduce unnecessary glare, uplight and light trespass.”

The society also offer a sample municipal bylaw for cities to use. It includes language about ensuring “responsible lighting, light pollution abatement and the conservation of the night sky environment.”

Is light pollution on Surrey’s radar?

Councillor Mike Starchuk said it is.

“We’re about at the half way point of making the switch over from high pressure sodium (bulbs) to LED,” he said of lights the city is responsible for.

In early 2016, Surrey was one of the first cities in Canada to embark on a full conversion of street lighting to LED, to the tune of $11 million, thereafter expected to save $1 million in reduced power savings.

See also: Surrey going LED: City spending $11 million to replace 28,000 street lights

“So areas where you’d previously have yellow high sodium lights, you’ll have a crisper light pointing down at the street, instead of making a mess of everything above it. So for wildlife flying overtop, it’s less intrusive. So we’re already thinking along those lines.”

Starchuk isn’t sure it’s necessary to bring forth a bylaw “when we’re already looking at ways we can control the amont of life we’re giving off.”

When it comes to specific situations, like Stepney’s, he said they are typically dealt with as “a one-off kind of situation.”

“If it’s something where people can’t sleep at night because it’s encroaching and the lighting is coming inside, then I think it’d be an issue,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that everybody has the right to enjoy the property they reside in. Whether it’s noise, smell or visual, anything that affects the senses in a negative way, then we have to be able to remedy those issues. When it comes to noise, we created bylaws that it’s a nuisance when it reaches a certain point. Will it become one of those things that’s there? It would probably mimic that in some sort of way, that’s how our noise bylaw came to be.”

But overall, Starchuk said he shares Stepney’s concern.

“She has a valid point and a valid concern,” he said. “The bigger thing is the city does take a look at our lights and where they shine and how we protect the residents and how we protect the wildlife…. I think we’ve got a good handle on it.”

As for a meeting with Stepney, Starchuk said he’s open to that.

“There’s always a better idea out there somewhere,” he added. “If she holds a better idea, why would I not want to speak with her.”

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