Angler turned concern into legislation
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau
Wayne Dang crammed into a State Capitol meeting room last year with other anglers to successfully fight a measure that would have severely limited where they fish.
Eugene Tanner The Honolulu Advertiser
Wayne Dang's concerns as a fisherman resulted in the so-called "light pollution bill."
Eugene Tanner The Honolulu Advertiser
"I'm not going to sit back and grumble about things," Dang said. "If I want something done, I'm going to go out there and go do it, and try to make a difference."
Thus began the seemingly improbable rise of House Bill 1743, the so-called "light pollution bill."
Dang persuaded Rep. Ken Ito, D-48th (Kane'ohe), his former electronics teacher at Kalani High School, to introduce the bill which essentially prohibits artifical light from shining into the ocean unless authorized and required for public safety or ocean navigation.
House conference committee members yesterday agreed to changes in the bill made by the Senate, and it is now expected to be approved by the Legislature, then sent to Gov. Linda Lingle for her signature.
"It's been a lot of work, but it's been worth it," Dang said.
Dang, 44, a Kahala resident who works as a message service supervisor with the state Department of Accounting and General Services, is no stranger to the Capitol. He has lent his fisherman's expertise to the Department of Land and Natural Resources on catch-related issues. But the light pollution bill is the first time he's been involved in the legislative process.
Dang has fished with a pole along the Honolulu coastline since his father took him as a child. He said he knows from experience that fish and other marine life shy away from areas that are lit at night. Dang said he has also witnessed disoriented birds blinded by lights fly into objects.
"You kind of notice these things when you're fishing," he said. "You throw your line out, you're waiting for a bite, you kind of notice what your environment's like."
But it wasn't until Dang thought about pushing for the light pollution bill that he began gathering data on the Internet. He discovered that there was scientific evidence to support his points and other jurisdictions have started to enact light pollution legislation.
A friend of Dang's who is familiar with the environmental community contacted groups ranging from the Hawai'i Audubon Society to Kahea, the Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance. The groups testified that floodlights from the shoreline shining into the ocean negatively affect a variety of wildlife.
Lights can confuse turtle hatchlings, who sometimes end up inland instead of heading back into the ocean. They also can disorient birds, scare off sea life and hamper the growth of coral.
Dang recruited fellow fishing enthusiasts, including Brian Kimata, whose Brian's Fishing Supply is a hub for those with an affinity for hooks, lines and sinkers.
The bill met opposition. The city Department of Planning and Permitting called it unnecessary since existing laws allow the state to protect marine resources. The Hawai'i Hotel and Lodging Association, as well as the pro-development Land Use Research Foundation also opposed the bill.
Sen. Fred Hemmings, R-25th (Kailua, Waimanalo, Hawai'i Kai), who voted against the bill, said he worries the legislation will be hard to enforce and will not be enforced equally. "It's a laudable effort, but it creates more problems than it solves," he said.
But Rep. Hermina Morita, D-14th (Kapa'a, Hanalei), who chairs the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection, said she believes the concerns raised by hoteliers have been addressed with an exemption for hotels and hotel-condominiums if their outdoor lighting is under water or directed downward and illuminates out no more than 30 feet from the shoreline.
Morita said floodlights from shoreline homes always irritated her, but she never thought about introducing a bill herself. "Here was a fisherman that came forward who actually was seeing the effects of light pollution on fish in fishing areas," she said. "We're really grateful to him for bringing this bill forward."
Ito said he is proud of how his former student approached him with the bill and shepherded it through the process. "He made a difference," Ito said. "And hopefully now it will become law and he can get the credit for it."
Dang is shy about accepting accolades. "The truth is, I didn't expect it to go this far," he said. "But I guess people recognize it as being a good bill."
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 525-8070.