January 31, 2006
BRECKENRIDGE – In a town where it’s common to see high-tech biodiesel-fueled buses stopped in front of 120-year-old Victorian houses, it’s no surprise that elected officials and planners often grapple with fundamental questions of new versus old.The most recent debate along these lines is shaping up over a sidewalk master plan in French Gulch, where some neighborhood residents want to cut light pollution by using fixtures that focus light downward.On the other hand, Breckenridge strives to preserve the historic integrity and character of the town, which includes using Welsbach-style lighting fixtures that hark back to the Victorian-era mining heyday along Wellington Road.Those lamps blot out the night sky by casting light up and out. They are also expensive and not energy efficient, according to Wellington Neighborhood resident Dave Rossi, who wants to stimulate a dialogue on the lighting issue with the town council.”We thought we’d get some traction with the town by suggesting that for the French Gulch sidewalk we go with lights that cast downward and cost less … in order to not only save money but to cut down on the light pollution in the outskirts of town,” Rossi said.
The Welsbach lights for French Gulch would cost about $28,000, while the smaller, more energy-efficient lights would only cost a quarter of that, Rossi said.Town manager Tim Gagen said the council discussed the lighting question extensively about three years ago.”For us, it was one of those classic discussions,” Gagen said, describing how elements of the town’s long-term vision sometimes clash. In this case, the conflict is between the goals of preserving community character and environmental sensitivity, Gagen said.The council decided at that time to balance the character of the town by using Welsbach lights throughout, Gagen said, explaining that some existing lights were replaced to achieve consistency. “The disappointing part is that, apparently, when a decision is made it’s never right to revisit it even when better and more cost effective and energy efficient options exist,” Rossi said. Based on the increasing awareness of light pollution issues, it might be appropriate for the town to take another look, he added.
“I think what many people are concerned about is the loss of the night sky … The lights up Ski Hill Road are a prime example of how the pollution from these lights exacerbates a growing problem in communities statewide.”Those impacts are not just of concern for casual stargazers. They are felt regionally. Summit County’s contribution to light pollution is still relatively small but has grown noticeably in the past 10 to 15 years, according to University of Denver astronomer Dr. Robert Stencel, director of the observatory atop Mt. Evans. Dark skies advocates use the phrase “light trespass” to highlight what they say is an infringement of everyone’s cosmic birthright – an unimpeded view of the Milky Way and the rest of the universe. They advocate for common sense regulations and use of the best available technologies to cut down on skyward glare.”When is it going to make sense to look at this (light pollution issue) on a more comprehensive basis?” asked Breckenridge architect Matt Stais, who also chairs the town’s open space advisory commission. “Not everything has to look like Main Street.”Stais said one upcoming concern relates to the lights at Vail Resorts’ base area development at Peak 7 and Peak 8, where he is also working on part of the project as an architect.
“We don’t want a bunch of light spilling over into Cucumber Gulch,” he said, referring to the adjacent alpine wetlands parcel, home to moose, mountain lions and rare boreal toads.Stais said it could be time to establish some sort of baseline data on light pollution, perhaps based on how many stars are visible from certain vantage points around the town, and then to try and project the loss of night sky over the next 10 to 20 years.”The question is, how do we use our regulations to influence that?” he said.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.