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Blinded by the Light?

Douglas Stevens has seen the light — a bit too much of it, actually.

Late last year, Stevens nearly had to shield his eyes when he drove past the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Carderock on the Clara Barton Parkway at night.

Last October, Carderock installed an intense lighting system around the missile launcher that has been on the facility’s property for more than a year. By day, and now by night, the missile launcher is visible from the Clara Barton Parkway. The lights seem especially strong on the otherwise unlit stretch of the Parkway between the Beltway and MacArthur Boulevard. “It’s almost blinding,” Stevens said.

He’s not alone in feeling that way. Jeff Spigel, acting president of the Civic Association of River Falls, said that the lights at Carderock are the complaint he hears the most from his neighbors right now.

“That seems to get more people’s goat more than anything else,” Spigel said.

IT’S SELF-EXPLANATORY, to some extent, why an amped-up illumination system was installed at Carderock. Just like prisons illuminate their exercise yard and perimeter area, a military base is going to illuminate the area surrounding anti-aircraft artillery.

“The intent is to illuminate the security area as a precaution. … It’s a security issue, based on what we have there,” said William Anderson, deputy regional public affairs officer for the Naval District of Washington.

Harold Williams, an astrophysicist and director of the Montgomery College Planetarium, said that cities and facilities with good, efficient and effective lighting systems aim lighting to minimize residual glare.

“It is possible to light the ground and not light the sky,” Williams said. “You want the light to hit the ground or whatever you’re looking at. … You want all lighting to go down.”

There are cities and municipalities that require the lighting to go down. Williams cities Tempe, Ariz., as one city that passed strict standards on the intensity and scope of residual lighting. Williams said that even those who are primarily unconcerned with light pollution benefit from not being hit by unnecessary glare. “Under good laws, that’s called ‘lighting trespass,’ and it’s illegal,” Williams said.

SHORTLY AFTER the lights were installed in October, Carderock and Naval District Washington received complaints from local residents about the intensity of the lights shining in the eyes of drivers on the Clara Barton Parkway after dark.

The base responded within a matter of days after receiving the complaints, Anderson said. The purpose of the lighting is to illuminate the perimeter of the security fence around the missile launcher, but not to illuminate the adjacent highway.

“The illumination was modified directionally,” Anderson said. The intensity of the lights remained the same, but they were redirected to focus more on the security area and less on the road. “The idea was to minimize the glare on the highway.”

According to Anderson, the facility has not received any further complaints since adjusting the lights. Stevens, however, doesn’t notice much of a difference, and Spigel said many of his neighbors are still troubled by the lights.

“I’ve continued to hear people say something about it,” he said.

They’re welcome to share these concerns with Carderock, said Anderson, even after the modifications. “It’s not something that would be hard and fast,” Anderson said. “To be clear, we are very sensitive to any concerns of the community, and we welcome that.” Residents who feel the lights continue to pose a hazard are invited to contact Chris Wright, a customer advocate at Carderock (see above).

SPIGEL DOESN’T expect miracles in regards to the lighting. The base must strike a balance between security and the vision of drivers who pass the base when they drive at night.

Stevens also recognizes this balance, but he still considers the new lighting to be an upsetting example of current times. “It’s one more small destruction of our rustic environment. … It’s like 1,000 little cuts,” Stevens said.