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Page Continuing to Take Steps to Protect the Night Sky

Page Continuing to Take Steps to Protect the Night Sky
February 28
14:18 2017

Become more like Flagstaff and less like Las Vegas. That’s the goal of the new lighting ordinance being developed by the city. The development of the lighting code took another step forward last night as a community meeting was held to discuss the dark-sky ordinance and how Page can protect the night sky.

Community Development Director Kim Johnson began the meeting by giving an overview on how Page has been taking steps to update lighting regulations. Back in November 2015, a request was filed to council to change the code to allow LED lighting and to attempt to possibly move towards dark-sky initiatives. However, it was discovered that the language in the lighting code referenced old technology and that the code needed to be amended. So in December the lighting ordinance amendment was referred to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

From January through April 2016 the Planning and Zoning Commission discussed the lighting ordinance amendments before coming to the consensus that Page should adopt a lighting ordinance amendment that went further towards dark-sky lighting regulations. The commission then begun to work on drafting language for the amended lighting code.

In April, the commission held a joint meeting with City Council and council requested more info on dark-sky initiatives. In response to the request, National Park Service and the Natural History Association invited International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) experts to give a presentation the council.

After the informational presentation, City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission held a joint work session in October 2016 to further discuss dark-sky and council indicated that the language Planning and Zoning was a good start. The commission was asked to work with the IDA to develop language for the code. Council also indicated that they wanted the language about bringing nonconforming light into compliance to be reasonable.

After the work session, a Dark-Sky Ordinance Committee was created. On February 21, the committee met to discuss and review the language drafted by the Planning and Zoning Commission, along with the edits made by Dr. John Balentine, the program manager for IDA. Currently, the Dark-Sky Committee has got through roughly ¾ of the proposed language and look to finish at the next meeting on March 10th. After that meeting, another community hearing will be held to discuss the proposed ordinance and then the language will be adopted into the city code. The process should be wrapped up by summer, according to Johnson.

Why has the city been putting in all this work? Why does Page need a dark-sky ordinance? Those were the questions being addressed at Monday’s community meeting. Dr. John Balentine joined the meeting via Skype and presented a PowerPoint presentation laying out the case for, as he called it, “better lights for better nights.”

First, Balentine laid out the issue at hand, light pollution. The skyglow, which is a symptom of light pollution, is the excess light a city puts off that hampers the ability to see the night sky for miles outside the city center. In fact, Page’s skyglow can be seen from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon!

To put how much light Page emits, Balentine compared Page to cities like Flagstaff and Las Vegas. The way emitted light is measured is with lumens. By measuring lumens and comparing it with a given population you can see lumens per capita, or in other words, how much light an area is using per person.

The glowing beacon of the southwest is to no surprise, Las Vegas. Light, and lots of it, are woven into Vegas’ identity. As a result, the gamblers haven emits an astonishing 6,500 lumens per capita. In comparison, Flagstaff, which became the world’s first International Dark Sky Place in 2001, emits 2,075 lumens per capita.

Believe it or not, Page falls closer to Las Vegas as far as light pollution is concerned, emitting 5,700 lumens per capita. Around 275% more lumens per capita than Flagstaff!

The cause of the excess light seeping into the night sky has to do with the way we light our community. Unshielded lights and over-lighting are the biggest culprits of light pollution. This leads to light clutter (too many lights in one area), light trespass (unwanted light), energy waste, and glare. Light pollution could also harm the economy as well.

A study estimated that over the next ten years, astrotourism will bring in between $2 and $2.5 billion. Would Page be left in the dark if it doesn’t go dark? It’s impossible to say, but protecting the night sky ensures that Page and surrounding National Parks can continue growing their astrotourism programs.

Fortunately, light pollution is the only form of pollution that is gone as soon as the pollution is stopped. Once lights are properly shielded and used in the proper way; the reduction in skyglow is noticed immediately.

For Balentine, it all starts with the four P’s: proper place, proper amount, proper time, and proper spectrum. Some solutions Balentine presented for complying with the four P’s are: light only what you need, use energy efficient bulbs, shield light fixtures, use only when light is needed, and use light from the warm end of the spectrum. Blue light has been known to disrupt the circadian rhythm of animals and maybe even humans. Softer, warmer colored lights are less harmful to the ecosystem and also reduce glare, improving visibility.

Visibility is a big concern, especially in regard to safety. Less light equates to unsafe. Not so says Balentine. In fact, because of the tendency to over-light areas, more dark areas are created in the shadows. Also constant lighting can also show potential thieves what you have to steal. Balentine pointed to the fact that no study has found any correlation between dark-sky compliance and crime rates. He believes that dark-sky initiatives can improves visibility, increase public safety, decrease energy consumption and decrease costs.

The city can develop the most stringent dark-sky ordinance in the nation, but the biggest hurdle is to get the residents to comply. Community support is the biggest part of any dark-sky movement and, at the end of the day; Page’s residents need to decide if they are willing to switch to better lights for better nights.

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