Lights scrutinized in Breck
BRECKENRIDGE – At the direction of the town council, planners will start to explore ways to limit the amount of light pollution from new developments in Breckenridge.The first step will be to look for low-impact, down-casting street lamps for a new pedestrian walkway in French Gulch, to be built this summer. At a work session last week, council asked the public works department to report back with information on alternatives to the traditional Welsbach-style lights now used around town.With construction planned for later this summer, there is a need for speed as the public works department tries to figure out exactly how to align the underground utilities for the lights. Pollution-sensitive fixtures could require different spacing, so the council is looking to get some answers by next month.For the long term, town planners and elected will look at the wider area and try and determine whether the town could be divided into lighting zones, with low-impact lights in some of the newer developing outlying neighborhoods. The town wants to balance concerns about light pollution with its desire to maintain historic integrity by using lamps that fit in with the Victorian architecture that define’s Breckenridge’s historic district. “I’d like to see a map of where we are using the Welsbach lights and what areas we’re talking about,” said Mayor Ernie Blake. Councilmember Dave Rossi said he’s heard from several neighborhoods concerned with light pollution, asking the town to take a look at the issue. He specifically mentioned the planned resort developments at Peaks 7 and 8, as well as Discovery Hill. Rossi said light pollution is an environmental stewardship issue, on par with preserving wetlands and wildlife habitat.At issue is the amount of light that spreads upward from urban and residential areas. Dark sky advocates say the glare from unwanted and unnecessary lights is an unwarranted intrusion into the common of the night sky.And while Summit County may not be the biggest culprit when it comes to light pollution, the developments in this area may have a disproportionate impact compared to other areas, according to Dr. Robert Stencel, director of the University of Denver’s Chamberlin observatory. Stencel has been taking light pollution measurements from the Mount Evans observatory for years, and recently said that the glare from Summit County exceeds that of the Front Range of a per capita basis. The glow from Summit County is clearly visible from Mount Evans. Stencel said it’s not too late for this area to get a handle on the problem, but said timely action is needed.Cumulative impacts from light pollution on a worldwide scale affect scientific observations, and the general public’s right to enjoy the night sky as nature intended it, said Stencel, a leader of the dark sky movement.Continued public education is needed, especially to make it clear that using night sky-friendly lighting does not mean ignoring public safety concerns. Downcast lights can offer the same level of convenience and safety as traditional fixtures, often at less cost. And reducing the overall level of lighting can also be more energy efficient in the long run, he said.In a previous interview, Breckenridge architect Matt Stais, who also serves on the town’s open space advisory board, said it could be time to establish some sort of baseline data on light pollution, then to try and project the loss of night sky over the next 10 to 20 years based on known development patterns.”The question is, how do we use our regulations to influence that?” he said, suggesting that good planning and design could lessen those future impacts considerably.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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