As I was mentioned by name in Ms. Conn’s Letter to the Editor in last week’s edition of the Blanco County News, I feel compelled to respond, at least to issues relating to night sky preservation.
First, I’d like to applaud Ms. Conn for taking the initiative and becoming involved in community issues. More people should do the same as an active, well informed, and expressive citizenry makes for a stronger community. I don’t question Ms. Conn’s motives but I really do need to correct some facts. Night sky preservation is not some off the wall concoction of a few disgruntled “new comers.” It was a consistent community priority in the many town meetings and workshops that developed Blanco’s Comprehensive Master Plan and the Visionaries in Preservation Action Plan. Citizens felt that preservation of Blanco’s night skies is part and parcel of preserving our rural heritage. Night sky preservation is now part of the official Blanco Historic Preservation Action Plan, a plan overseen by the Blanco Historic Preservation Commission, an official entity of the Blanco City Government.
The letter appears to refer to parts of a draft Comprehensive Outdoor Lighting ordinance that would have been a change to Blanco’s Unified Development Code (UDC). That is probably where mention of lighting flag poles from the top shining down originated. That provision and indeed most of the draft came from Dripping Springs’ new Outdoor Lighting ordinance. There are parts of that ordinance that are just not applicable to Blanco and maybe downlighting of flagpoles is one of them. That’s why you have public hearings before the City Council votes on these things. It is all academic anyway as no one is pushing for a Comprehensive Outdoor Lighting ordinance for Blanco now. We can wait a couple of years and see how Dripping Springs’ new ordinance is working out. In the meantime, we just need to enforce the existing provisions of Blanco’s current UDC, to wit, Section 5.12, Outdoor Lighting. This says that all outdoor lighting installed within the city limits of Blanco after Feb 14, 2006 must be “hooded, shielded, or aimed downward” and that “light trespass beyond property boundaries or above the horizontal plane shall be considered non-compliant.” Pretty simple.
The letter unfortunately perpetuates the myth that bright lights promote security. If this were true, our cities would be far safer than our small towns. Many law enforcement officers and security experts will tell you that putting outdoor lights on motion detectors is much more effective in deterring crime than simply having them on all night. But in Blanco, even if an individual or business wants to be surrounded by bright spotlights that burn all night (and, incidentally, waste a large amount of electricity), that is now and will be in the future just fine as long as the light does not escape over the property line or above the horizon.
The letter questions whether service stations can have night sky friendly canopy lighting and still be attractive to customers. Of course they can. Some night go look at the canopy on the Texaco station at the Blanco Ice House. When they renovated it a couple years ago, they surrounded the canopy with an attractive, translucent, red apron. This apron shields the horizon from aberrant light and preserves the night skies. Well done, Texaco!
The letter challenges those advocating for night sky friendly lighting to basically put-up-or-shut-up. To quote, “If you’re really passionate, give the lights or install them free of charge. That means you pay, not the city of Blanco.” To my knowledge, the City of Blanco has not paid to install any night sky friendly outdoor lighting on private property, nor should it. On the contrary, many individual Blanconians have actively supported this effort with their own money and their personal labor. At least six families have contributed to purchasing and installing light shields at three Blanco businesses with more in the offing. Several others have replaced, redirected, or shielded outdoor lights on their own property at their own expense because they concluded that the lights were bothersome to their neighbors, e.g., shining in their bedroom windows at night. The Old Blanco County Courthouse Preservation Society (OBCCPS), using no city money, made sure that when they purchased the new pedestal lights for the courthouse grounds they were dark sky friendly. Good job all! That’s putting your money where your mouth is.
The letter also assails Dark Sky tourism as a potential money maker for Blanco. Well, this is already being done by many small communities who have come to realize that a dark sky can attract tourists from light blighted urban areas. Just Google “Dark Sky Tourism” and you’ll have a week’s worth of reading on this subject. Blanco State Park, by the way, in association with the Austin Astronomical Society, will be hosting its first “Stars in the Park” event on Saturday night, November 19th. We hope this will be the first in a regular series of these events, a series that will bring more overnight visitors to our park and our town. That is just one example of the potential for dark sky tourism in Blanco. There will be more.
The letter correctly states that I have a “slide show” on all this but it refers readers to the wrong site. This Dark Sky PowerPoint is on BlancoGuide.com, not the Blanco County News site. I encourage anyone with an interest to view it and learn more about this issue. I am available to make a presentation to citizens groups or even individuals if requested. Just call me at 833-0586 or email me at GosnellTexas@Gmail.com and we can set up a time.
One thing I do need to add to that presentation is that the Pedernales Electric Cooperative’s Board of Directors, at their August 15, 2011 meeting and with the encouragement of the Hill Country Alliance, approved a resolution affirming the Co-op’s commitment to “protecting the beauty of the night skies.” PEC is making efforts to “work together with landowners, businesses, residential communities and public entities in an effort to reduce the use of outdoor light fixtures that hinder Hill Country residents’ ability to enjoy the night skies.” That’s pretty encouraging news and a positive affirmation that night sky preservation has gone mainstream.
In closing, I’d respectfully like to thank Ms. Conn for giving me the opportunity to clarify the status of dark sky initiatives in Blanco and beyond. The more citizens know about the issues facing the community, the better community we will all have.