Breckenridge officials aim to become a certified dark sky community
Breckenridge is applying to become a certified International Dark Sky Community. If it’s certified, it would join 42 other currently certified dark sky community across the world. With the town’s gameplan to have an application in for 2025, certification could come in the next several years.
Assistant community development director Julia Puester presented a multi-year plan to the Breckenridge Town Council on Tuesday, Sept. 26, to get the town and its residences into compliance. In total the effort is estimated to cost the town $3.6 million. A state bill passed last year will allow the town to tap into technical assistance grants.
Breckenridge started working to become more dark sky friendly in 2007, when it passed new exterior lighting rules. Since then all new buildings and remodels have required dark sky compliant lighting. The town had originally set July 1, 2022, as a deadline for all exterior light fixtures to match the new code, but in 2020, during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, the town moved to extend the deadline to 2025, but no other major steps have been take to attain certification in the years since.
In January, Blue River resident Martie Semmer, who works as the western Colorado regional coordinator for Dark Sky Colorado, made a public comment at a Council meeting urging the town to be more active in pursuing certification. Puester later reached out to Semmer to voice her support in boosting the town’s efforts.
The two hope to calm concerns from those who think the feat is unattainable, saying many who hear the term “dark sky community” may misinterpret what it means. They emphasized that becoming a dark sky community does not mean entirely shutting lights off at night, but it does entail redirecting the light and using it intentionally. Requirements include making sure lights are in useful areas, targeted, controlled, within the appropriate color spectrum and are not too bright.
“Out of all the contaminants and pollutants, this is one that can be easily resolved,” Semmer said. “It’s instantaneous — turn off the light, or shield the light and use it only when necessary.”
While advocating for multiple communities in Summit County to become “more dark sky friendly” Semmer has stressed that the effort needs collaboration. She said it is not something one person or even one group can take on.
Puester was has worked to bring in other Breckenridge entities, including the town’s public works, information technology and police departments.
Semmer noted it was especially important to loop in law enforcement to break the notion that “brighter means safer.”
The International Dark Sky Association cites numerous studies on their website debunking this notion. Semmer said motion-activated lights are widely considered to be safer than bright constant street lights.
“We have had conversations within the dark sky realm about how perpetrators know how to work the shadows,” Semmer said.
Motion activated lights are better able to catch perpetrators off guard and draw the attention of others, said Semmer.
A pillar of the dark sky movement is the improvements it can provide for human health. The organization has highlighted research on how humans evolved with the light-dark cycle of nature and how moving away from this can impact a person’s circadian rhythm. The International Dark Sky Association says artificial light disrupts circadian rhythms and tampers with sleep patterns.
Aside from human impact, the dark-sky movement also places a large focus on artificial light’s impact on wildlife. The organization looks to draw attention to the fact that many species are nocturnal and rely on natural light at night. It especially effects birds, which often hunt at night, and species living in wetland habitats whose ability to reproduce can decrease because of light pollution.
Next steps to become certified will include updating the engineering standards, taking required development code changes for private properties forward to the Breckenridge Planning Commission and reaching out to property owners.
“Over the next two years, we are going to be putting forth a really big effort to get our private property owners educated that aren’t that are not in compliance, and help them find light fixtures that are conforming,” Puester said.
She noted the town launched a website this summer to help residents get into compliance. It can be found at bit.ly/breckdarksky.
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