Columnist: Let’s darken Glenwood’s night sky |

Columnist: Let’s darken Glenwood’s night sky

Hal Sundin
Staff Photo |

Now that the Christmas season of decorative lighting is drawing to a close, we should be able to enjoy the beauty of a star-lit dark sky. But sadly that is not the case. Light pollution is ruining the view of our night sky.

Almost the entire eastern half of our country, the West Coast, and every city large enough to have a commercial airport do not have an acceptable view of the stars. Two-thirds of Americans and half of Europeans can no longer see the Milky Way. After a 1994 power outage in Los Angeles, many residents who had never seen the Milky Way called emergency lines to report a giant silvery cloud in the sky.

So what produces “light pollution?” Glare, which is high-intensity light that is intrusive to the eye, and “light trespass,” which is lighting that illuminates properties outside of the light-owner’s property. Most of these conditions can be corrected by relatively simple measures, such as reducing the brightness of the light source, down-lighting, shielding and reducing the hours of illumination. And a majority of lighting, both residential and commercial, is much brighter than necessary. With commercial lighting this is primarily to gain attention.

Down-lighting is simply aiming lighting downward so it illuminates only the area intended, and shielding requires nothing more than putting a hood around lights so that the light source is not directly visible.

And there is no reason for the vast majority of lighting to be on all night. There is an off-switch or timer that can and should be activated to turn lights off by 10 p.m. We turn off our water when we don’t need it — why not our lights? It would not only save the night sky, but also conserve both energy and its cost. But in recent years there has been an increasing conversion from incandescent to LED lighting, due to the huge saving in the use and cost of energy they offer. However, LEDs produce a higher intensity of illumination, requiring filters to reduce it to acceptable levels.

A growing number of communities are beginning to take action to become “dark-sky” communities. Among them are Flagstaff, Arizona, and Westcliffe, which became the first municipality in Colorado to be designated a dark-sky town. Fort Collins, Durango and neighboring Carbondale are also making progress toward becoming dark-sky communities.

What about our city? More than 10 years ago, Glenwood Springs adopted an ordinance setting exterior lighting standards to eliminate light pollution and reduce the intensity and hours of outdoor lighting to give residents and visitors the enjoyment of a dark night sky and to conserve energy. The ordinance set standards for new construction and provisions for bringing existing lighting, both residential and commercial into compliance with the standards.

But sadly, our City Council has completely ignored the existing lighting portion of the ordinance. The public has never been advised of the requirements for existing residential lighting. All that would be required is an information brochure that could be mailed with the electricity bills.

Regarding commercial establishments, the ordinance requires the city to send a notice requiring them to submit a mitigation plan for bringing their lighting into compliance, and gives them a year to make the needed modifications. This also has not been done, and as a00 result, the first thing anyone entering Glenwood Springs at night from either Interstate 70 Exit 114 or 116 sees is the glare of gas station lighting.

There was considerable concern among the local businesses about the cost of bringing existing lighting into compliance. But Dick Zeder, the president of Bighorn Toyota at the time, who was a member of the Ad Hoc Lighting Committee (on which I also served, and which spent more than a year developing and refining the ordinance), conducted a personal survey of the commercial lighting in town and concluded that the cost of mitigation in most cases would not be excessive.

Making Glenwood Springs a dark-sky city where visitors, as well as residents, could enjoy seeing the stars and planets, would benefit local businesses by being another feature that would attract tourists to our city.

Past public comment to the Post Independent has largely been in favor of a dark night sky for Glenwood Springs. I urge everyone who would enjoy being able to see the stars and planets to please join me at the City Council meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 21 and make your voices heard.

Hal Sundin’s As I See It column appears on the first Thursday of each month.

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