CAMDEN — The Camden Planning Board Thursday night unanimously approved an amendment to the previously approved Ragged Mountain Redevelopment Site Plan, most notably as it pertained to proposed lighting of the mountain to improve night skiing safety. With the approval of the project’s lighting, concerns that Snow Bowl management and outdoor enthusiasts had about a possible delay in opening or the inability to ski at night this winter are once again in the hands of Mother Nature and whether there is enough snow on the ground to open Dec. 20.
In addition to changes to the lighting, the proposed amendment included changes to plans/design of power distribution, minor grading changes and a reduction in proposed clearing of trees. Another piece about a change to a proposed temporary accessory building was pulled from the amendment, with a plan to potentially bring that up at a future date.
The Oct. 2 meeting was a continuation of the public hearing for the proposed amendment. Before the start of the meeting, board member John Scholz recused himself as he owns three properties on Hosmer Pond, which is adjacent to the Camden Snow Bowl. Hosmer Pond residents have been vocal in their concern about the effect new LED lighting at night on the mountain will have in terms of light pollution, as well on their property values.
Planning Board members present included chairman Lowrie Sargent, Richard Householder, Richard Bernhard and Jan MacKinnon. Stephen Wilson, Camden's planner/CEO, was also in attendance Thursday night.
Representatives of the Redevelopment Plan sitting before the board included Landon Fake, general manager of the Camden Snow Bowl, Larry Bartlett of Bartlett Design of Bath and Will Gartley of Gartley and Dorsky Engineering in Rockport.
Scholz, representing himself as a resident of Camden, was the first member of the public to address the board and the Redevelopment representatives, and he asked Bartlett to address concerns issued by people at the first public hearing.
"Larry, several people spoke last time about one to five light fixtures that were a possible direct glare to them across the pond. Would you please respond to those questions?" said Scholz.
"Yes, but let me first say that those comments are enormously helpful to me," said Bartlett.
He went on to say that once the new lights are up on the mountain and turned on, he plans to go up and ensure the aiming is correct. He also plans to go out and around Hosmer Pond and get a view of the lights from the neighbor's perspective, and make necessary adjustments, where possible.
"If there are particular fixtures that even show the remote possibility of being problematic to neighbors, it is helpful to know which one(s)," said Bartlett.
Bartlett talked about three lights in particular, which were concerns for residents both on the pond and on the opposite side of the Snow Bowl. For all three, he said that the aiming and shield positions would be adjusted as necessary, once they were up and it could be seen how they were having an impact.
Scholz also asked about whether the request to consider a 3,200 nanometer fixture versus the planned 4,500 nanometer fixture was something he agreed with.
"The concern heard was that in the 4,000 nanometer wavelength range, it can affect photo biology, the creation of melatonin and circadian rhythms, and when you look at the difference in that zone, there is not an appreciable difference between 3,000 and 4,000," said Bartlett. "Most LEDs, including the ones we are proposing, have very little wavelength less than 4,000. And we still feel comfortable with the 4,000 being proposed, and it answers the concern with what happens below 4,000 nanometers."
Scholz also asked whether LEDs were the "wave of the present and into the future," as a choice for retrofitting ski areas, or whether the decision by engineers and architects to go to LEDs was "still in flux."
Bartletter said that with exterior application, the trend is already moving to LED as the primary source of light. And because ski areas are seasonal, and most often behind the curve on technology due to their age, they as an industry are just beginning to move toward LED when it's time to upgrade and/or replace unrepairable lighting fixtures.
"I have every expectation that they will get on board with LED, and in a number of years you will find most if not all are lit by LED lights," said Bartlett.
Scholz told those at the meeting that he had asked Bartlett to price out in estimate form the cost to retrofit the Snow Bowl's remaining high pressure sodium fixtures with LEDs, and learned that the range was $150,000 to $200,000. That figure included the fixtures themselves ($700 each) as well as installation and some new poles.
Scholz also then said he hopes that for the sake of the overall project that with everything else being done "first class" that changing all of the lighting from high pressure sodium light fixtures to LED would stay top of mind by the town.
Bartlett clarified that changing out the existing sodium lights with LEDs was not a one-to-one replacement, due to the fact that some poles would need to be moved to more effective locations to improve night ski lighting, and there would be additional work to change out the wiring to accommodate LED fixtures.
Due to the project's timetable, which includes having the mountain ready to open by Dec. 20, with additional work schedule for next spring, changing out all of the lights were not included in the plan. Changing out all of the lights was also not included in the budget, and it would take time to raise additional monies to cover the cost, further putting the opening date goal in jeopardy.
Dana Strout, a Hosmer Pond resident and president of the Hosmer Pond Association said that most of the people who live around the pond don't find the skiing at the Snow Bowl a benefit to them.
"Most of us who live out there do not find slope side skiing an amenity to us because of the sound, because of the lighting at night, this is not an enhancement to our properties," said Strout.
Strout asked Bartlett what percentage of the mountain's lighting is new and what is old, and Bartlett responded that he could not give a percentage he felt would be accurate.
"Numbers are important to me as an engineer and I just don't know and don't want to shoot from the hip on that. But there are more new than existing," said Bartlett.
Strout also questioned the why the lights needed to be 4,000 nanometers. The question was whether 4,000 provided better contrast for skiing at night.
"No, my concern is the change as you come down from the new into the old lights. If you are coming down from a cool/blue light (LED) so to speak and you transition to existing bright sodium lighting, in contrast, you are going to have better visibility in the white light than the sodium yellow light. Visual acuity improves with the white light," said Bartlett.
"I have no problem with the idea that a higher kelvin makes a better visibility," said Strout. "What is the problem between the new and the old lights? What are you solving?"
"All the elements are pointed toward improving safety for skiers," said Bartlett. "We are providing more uniform light, we are avoiding the dark spots between poles, we are providing better contrasts for the moguls so they can be defined more easily visually and we are providing an overall average of the vertical plane than horizontal plane, which is more important."
When Strout asked if the LEDs would provide less light pollution in the neighborhood, Bartlett said as LED lights come on, they move from a warm color to a cool color.
"Cooler tones diminish a lot faster, it diminishes in the distance at a quicker rate," said Bartlett.
"The intensity output of each new fixture is less than the existing fixture. Per fixture, the peak intensity is far less than what exists. Both of those go toward making light pollution less. We are also shielding our fixtures much better than the existing, which have no shield at all," said Bartlett. "On the other hand, I have to be honest and tell you that we are lighting two new trails, therefore you cannot light two new trails and not have more light basically being directed into the atmosphere. What you can do is mitigate that on a per-fixture basis and we have done that. The fixtures will perform better, but we are also lighting two new trails on the mountain."
When asked by Strout if it was possible to reconfigure the design with less lights, as the planning board had inquired about at a previous meeting, and maintain safety, Bartlett said no.
Bartlett said that given that the highest priority is skier safety, he is "convinced" their lighting design is the best one. And that in his professional opinion, there was no way to maintain safety with less lights than the plan currently includes.
The last to speak during the public hearing was resident Michael White, who said he does not live on Hosmer Pond. White said he was pleased to see the vested groups working together, and that it seemed they were close to compromise on the important aspects of the plan.
"What I've heard over the past couple of nights is really focused research on how to light the ski slope that has been offering night skiing for the past 20 years or more," said White. "It has probably grown from a few trails to what we have today, and what I hear is groups coming together to agree on a new challenge of lighting the ski area safely and with less pollution to abutters It seems like they have a budget and a solution and will do so with all the best technology in place. It sounds to me like we are there and ready to move forward."
And with that, the planning board did, closing the public hearing with no additional community members on deck to speak.
The board then began its final discussion with Gartley, Bartlett and Fake. Gartley said that while 30-40 high pressure sodium fixtures remain on the mountain, ostensibly to be replaced at another time, new LEDs were being installed at the top of the new chair, at the top of Clipper Trail, on Mussel Ridge Trail and where new trails intersect with old ones.
"I felt we needed to do some work to get the new to do a better job of lighting overall," said Bartlett.
In total, the mountain will have just over 100 new LED lights, and for those who need to wear tinted goggles at night to ski, Bartlett said that yellow lenses do the "best job" under LED lights.
"But yellow would be problematic with high pressure sodium lights because you are taking away the one element you have," said Bartlett. Basically, his recommendation was no tint for skiing at night under high pressure sodium lights.
Planning board member Barnhard voiced his approval of the plan before the board, saying what they had come up with "makes sense."
Board chairman Sargent commended the group for producing what he called a much more thorough job with the plan than what was presented in the spring.
"And I appreciate the fact that you took the cut sheets on the lamps and did the photometric modeling, and then bought the lamp and put it up," said Sargent. "We all know in the trade that what you see in the catalog is not always what you expect when you get it up and put it up. I also appreciate that you plan to come back and do adjustments as needed, to re-aim or re-baffle if needed. That's all very positive."
He called the discussion of whether to use sodium or LED lights "sort of germane," as it wasn't part of the project application. He said he was trying to judge the night's discussion independent of what remains.
Sargent also mentioned the improvement to the light switching configuration, which allowed more flexibility to turn off lights on parts of the mountain that were closed, or not being used for snow-making late at night.
He was concerned about the need to ensure that the lights were turned off on the mountain, when nobody was there.
"We need diligence to make sure you turn off the lights when you leave at the end of the day. I'm wondering that if somebody goofs and goes home and leaves the lights on, is there a number somebody can call to get someone to go out and turn the lights off? So we don't have disgruntled people?" said Sargent.
"Yes, we can give them a number to call," said Fake.
The first motion made was to decide whether change being made was sufficiently small scale that it qualified as an amendment, and that passed, 4 to 0. The next motion was to find that the board approved the amendment "because of the nature of the amendment and all the information presented by the applicant." That two passed, 4 to 0. Scholz remained recused for both votes in addition to recusing himself from the board during the discussion.
Editorial Director Holly S. Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-6655.