Viewpoints

Paso’s Field of Light is environmentally safe, representative says

We were surprised and disappointed by the letter to the editor titled “Lights? Who needs ‘em?”.

The correspondent, Pete Sykes of Burlington, North Carolina, erroneously disparages “Bruce Munro: Field of Light at Sensorio” in Paso Robles as being created with “little forethought” and no care for wildlife or light pollution.

None of that is even remotely accurate. The artist, who has created internationally acclaimed works in both densely urban landscapes and remote rural areas around the globe, is acutely conscious of light pollution issues and has devoted himself to creating work that interacts harmoniously with its environment.

Indeed, Bruce Munro’s stated intent is to create work that demonstrates one only needs a tiny amount of light to create a dramatic effect. Contrary to this writer’s assumption, his exhibits have happily existed with kangaroos, wild turkeys, deer, desert rats and numerous other insect and wildlife the world over.

The fact that one can see stars while in the center of the exhibit demonstrates how little light is actually emitted. By comparison, the average U.S. house consumption is 2KW per hour. The Field of Light installation at Sensorio is just under 5KW per hour — the equivalent consumption of two and a half average houses, spread over 15 acres.

It is currently lit less than three hours per night, from approximately 8:30 p.m., when its canyon setting grows dark, until 11 p.m. (hours of illumination vary according to season), a total of five days per week. The exhibit was also intentionally kept below the horizon line of the surrounding landscape, creating an intimate, quiet space for appreciation of its natural setting, with a location carefully selected to contain the luminosity and reduce its presence on the local environment.

The entire work uses only solar energy, which is gathered throughout the day using 58 solar panels, and all light-emitting equipment has been carefully selected based upon its low power consumption. At the conclusion of the show, all material will be reused again for years to come, or responsibly recycled — provisions for this already are under agreement in the exhibition contract.

But most to the writer’s point: conservation of wildlife habitat was carefully monitored by a panoply of California environmental agencies before any permitting was allowed. Sensorio worked closely with each of these entities: California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Air Pollution Control District, California Regional Water Quality Control Board, city of Paso Robles, Army Corps of Engineers.

Before receiving permission to create this display, Sensorio was required to produce and have approved hundreds of pages of documents, including: Habitat Mitigation and Monitoring Plan; Environmental Permitting and Open Space Management Plan; Delineation of Waters of the U.S. and the State of California; APCD Activity and Management Plan; California Red Legged Frog Assessment; San Joaquin Kit Fox Mitigation Plan; Vernal Pool and Fairy Shrimp Assessment; Biological Resources Assessment, an exhaustive list and classification of every biological asset historically and presently on site; Floristic Inventory Report, an exhaustive list and classification of every species of plant life on site; and a Cultural Resources Report.

We understand the correspondent may not care for public art displays, but we must assure him (and the public) that the overall light output of Field of Light at Sensorio has been carefully attenuated to have minimal impact on its environment, and wildlife care was painstakingly considered by all appropriate experts before the installation was created.

Tracy Strann is executive director of Sensorio.

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