Friday, August 7, 2009

County moves to protect dark skies

Commissioners have instructed staff to draft a ‘dark sky’ ordinance

Express Staff Writer

The county has begun the process of considering new regulations that would restrict how much light could intrude into the nighttime sky in rural areas outside of cities. Photo by David N. Seelig

Blaine County officials have started drafting an ordinance to regulate light intrusion into the nighttime sky, which is sometimes called light pollution.

If the ordinance is ultimately approved by the Blaine County Commission, the county would join the cities of Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey, which all have similar "dark sky" ordinances restricting emissions from outdoor lights.

The decision to begin drafting an ordinance took place late in the day Tuesday during the commission's weekly meeting. Once a draft ordinance is completed, it will be considered during public meetings of the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission and the County Commission.

Several years ago, the county went through a similar process of considering how to regulate light pollution in non-municipal areas of the county. The idea was met with significant opposition in the agriculturally zoned areas of the county, including the Bellevue Triangle and around Carey. Farmers and ranchers said the lighting regulations would impact their work, which is often done after nightfall.


This time, the county is considering exempting these agricultural areas from the lighting standards—at least at first—and instead focusing their efforts on residentially zoned areas and the light-industrial, heavy-industrial and commercial zones.

The commissioners were presented with two options for how the county could proceed with regulating lighting that intrudes into the night sky. One would be to limit the amount of lumens—the measure of the perceived output of a light source—and the other by only allowing downcast lighting fixtures.

Under both scenarios, new building projects would be required to install them during construction and existing homes and businesses would be given an as-yet-unspecified period of time to install proper lighting.

In the end, the commissioners expressed an interest in having an ordinance drafted that would blend both of these ideas regulating lumens and requiring downcast lighting fixtures.

Sun Valley resident Dr. Steve Pauley, a stargazing enthusiast who also helped craft similar ordinances for Sun Valley and Hailey, noted the 10-year anniversary of Ketchum's "dark sky ordinance" in June. In an e-mail to the Idaho Mountain Express at the time, he said Ketchum takes pride in its beautiful night skies.

During Tuesday's meeting, Pauley spoke in support of the county's move to regulate outdoor lighting.

Jason Kauffman:

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