Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Liberty Quarry and Lighting

Granite Construction is trying to win approval to operate a rock quarry next to Temecula, CA, and within 18 miles of Palomar Observatory. I suspect the need for construction material is genuine, but so is the opposition by a broad coalition residents, businesses, and organizations of Temecula. The deadline for commenting on the project's Environmental Impact Report was yesterday, and I submitted comments on lighting with only hours to spare.

As much as a detest when commercial operations use names like "Liberty", "Freedom", or "True believers in God" quarry, the English language is public domain and the project applicants have a right to manipulate perception through their choice of name. Flipping the coin, citizens have the right to consider any impact on the region's hydrology, waterways, nightsky, scenery, and thin blanket of biology as an impact on the public domain. This right is protected in state (CEQA) and federal (NEPA) law. Anyone may comment on a project subject to these laws and will be treated as a stakeholder. Receiving a letter from the approving agency that begins "Dear Stakeholder" is to me one of our greatest freedoms and liberties.

I've reviewed Granite Construction's lighting plan. It is good in regard to protecting Palomar Observatory and the night sky -- almost too good. Therefore my comments, though awknowledging the virtues of the plan, focussed on the failure of the EIR to address reasonable circumstances that would encourage a mining operation to deviate from the plan. Essentially, if shopping malls and restaurants have trouble following the lighting regulation, why should I expect the same of an industrial operation using explosives and earth moving equipment?

My submitted comments are shown below, and as with all posts here, I welcome comments and criticism.

As an amateur astronomer, I promote astronomy-related activities in schools throughout the Temecula Valley. I'm trying to make our communities more aware of lighting and reawaken an interest in preserving our night sky both for our enjoyment and for the protection of research opportunities at Palomar Observatory.

I have been lobbying Riverside County to update their lighting ordinance (655) to
  • address changes in population density,
  • address advances in lighting technology,
  • fix weaknesses in the ordinance.
I’ve also tested the County’s lighting code enforcement and have some observations that are relevant to the proposed Liberty Quarry.

General CommentThough the Liberty Quarry Lighting plan (Aug 2007) is excellent in regard to minimizing light pollution, there are some inconsistencies that combined with weaknesses in enforcement of County Ordinance 655, could lead to Liberty Quarry’s using significant quantities of white light should safety, trespass, or liability concerns emerge during and after the lifetime of the quarry.

My comments are based on my reading of these documents:

  • Lighting Plan for the Proposed Liberty Quarry Project, Rainbow, California (Aug 2007), referred to here as Lighting Plan and in the Liberty Quarry EIR as Appendix M.
  • Analysis of Potential Light Impacts for the Proposed Liberty Quarry Project, Rainbow, California (Aug 2007), referred to here as Lighting Analysis and in the Liberty Quarry EIR as Appendix M-1.
Specific Comments
Excellent qualities of Liberty Quarry’s lighting plan
The lighting plan describes only fullcutoff Low Pressure Sodium (LPS) and High Pressure Sodium (HPS) lights for Liberty Quarry. LPS is transparent to research at Palomar Observatory (see Figure 1). HPS does pollute some of the wavelengths that Palomar conducts research in, but it is a reasonable alternative to white light, especially when used within full cutoff fixtures.
Figure 1: The above diagram compares broad spectrum white light to a picket fence that can obscure the wavelengths of light being observed. By ignoring data from wavelengths corresponding to narrow band of Low Pressure Sodium light, the observatory effectively ignores light pollution in these wavelengths

Can Liberty Quarry conduct night-time operations safely with the lighting they’ve described?In the case of any contractor providing a generously low bid, it is fair to ask whether Granite Construction can conduct mining operations with only the minimal lighting they propose. This is not an accusation of misrepresentation, but there may be extenuating circumstances that would understandably divert an operations manager from protecting the night sky to minimizing legal liabilities.

For example, how will Granite Construction respond to any of the following circumstances?
  • evidence of trespass, such as beer bottles in the quarry, suggesting that juveniles have hopped the fence and are climbing on the excavation walls at night
  • a worker blaming an accident (or his or her own negligence) on the lighting
  • workers hear the rumble of rock fall from the mostly unlit portions of the quarry
    Figure 2 shows the portion of the quarry that will have the steepest walls after final excavation.

Figure 2: Contour maps from the Lighting Plan show a step dropoff 50 feet from the quarry boundary line. The red triangles are the only quarry workface lighting described in the Lighting Plan.

With the creation of walls this steep, it is reasonable that safety issues will arise. I believe that the EIR is deficient in not addressing the extenuating circumstances I’ve cited.

In addition to the extenuating circumstances, there are some inconsistencies and ambiguities in the lighting documents:

Page 5 of the Lighting Analysis says

The proposed project is a Class I use for which color rendition is important due to the task work required in a quarry…

Yet there is no mention of white light in the Lighting Analysis, nor in the Lighting Plan. This suggests three possibilities:
  • White light is really not needed for the work. Therefore, this is an editorial error and the proponent’s environmental impact report should specify that the quarry is not to be considered a Class I use.
  • The proponents intend to modify their activity so as to not need white light. If so, the modified procedures should be clarified in the environmental impact statement.
  • The proponents intend to supplement their lighting with sources that are not regulated under Ordinance 655, such as floodlights on mining equipment or temporary lighting typical of that used in construction sites.

Note that the Lighting Analysis on page 12 says:

portable lighting will be used to illuminate the approximately 100 to 150-foot wide segment of quarry face that will be worked at any one time.

Figure 3 shows a hillside comparable to the walls of the quarry being lit by portable lighting.

Figure 3: Portable lighting offers an easy means of blanketing high walls with light.

Presumably, the lighting for the quarry face would be the LPS and HPS lights cited in the Lighting Plan, but considering the mention of portable lighting for this white-light application, it would be more comforting to have a lighting limit described in the Lighting Plan. Instead, the quarry lighting described in the Lighting Analysis appears to be a baseline:

The most likely scenario for the excavation lighting using this light fixture setup is to have
the light source approximately 15 ft. to 25 ft. away from the face of excavation requiring
lighting and to have these sources spaced approximately 100 ft. apart if additional light
sources are required.

County Ordinance 655 may not offer sufficient protection from light pollution
In 2007, I submitted the observation below to Riverside County Code Enforcement:

The code enforcement officer acknowledged that the observation appears to be a clear violation and also admitted that he had no experience in enforcing the ordinance. The code violation has not been corrected.

It is my fear that excess lighting from the quarry will be equally difficult to control for the following reasons:
  • Enforcement is complaint driven, meaning a citizen needs to visit the quarry at night to document the lighting violation.
  • Ordinance 655 regulates lighting fixtures and lacks a scientific standard of sky quality and therefore it cannot cap lighting pollution
  • Enforcement is done under a building construction code violation, which is not a strong way of addressing temporary lights likely to be used at a quarry site

The Lighting Analysis relies on compliance with the county ordinance and relative comparison to other light sources as proof that their operations do not affect the night sky; this is not a correct assumption. Ordinance 655 is a regulation not a scientific determination, and all light contributes to light pollution, including their HPS lights.

1 comment:

Scott Kardel said...

Keep up the fight on outdoor lighting John. It is appreciated.