Meeting illuminates new light regulations
By BENJAMIN WERMUND
FORT DAVIS – Far West Texans are preparing for a “one-of-a-kind” state law aiming to protect the region’s “one-of-a-kind skies.”
At a meeting Monday at Indian Lodge near Fort Davis, about 30 people gathered to learn more about potential changes coming to the area, stemming from a new law requiring counties and communities, any part of which are within 57 miles of McDonald Observatory, to regulate light usage. A dark sky improves the scientific mission at the observatory.
The law isn’t specific about how to regulate light usage; it just says that they must do so. And as it became clear at the meeting, it’s unclear what, if any, changes will come to the already regulated Jeff Davis, Brewster and Presidio counties.
William ‘Bill’ Wren, a special assistant to the observatory superintendent whose main mission is to educate West Texans on observatory-friendly lighting practices, led the 30-minute meeting that offered suggestions on good lighting and illuminated the eyeball-burning, blinding effects of bad lighting.
Wren showed slide after slide with before and after shots of darkened parking lots and streets, lit first with bad lighting, then with good lighting. He splashed a cone of light from a flood light against the wall to show how much light gets wasted in the sky when a fixture isn’t installed at the suggested 20-degree angle below the horizon. Wren then pointed the floodlight at the small audience.
“You can’t see when you have bright lights in your eyes,” Wren said, summing up the reason for regulations.
Wren gave examples of lighting success stories around the area. Big Bend National Park, he said, cut energy consumption by 98 percent by switching to suggested LED lighting.
“LED is the wave of the future,” Wren said.
The Stripes in Marfa was “lighting up the world” with lights burning 6,700 watts apiece, Wren said. At the observatory’s prompting, the store reduced those to only 1,200 watts, saving money and cutting light pollution.
The new Dollar General store in Marfa also altered its outdoor lights when contacted by city officials.
The new law doesn’t provide guidelines on how counties should regulate lights, so Wren’s job remains giving meetings like Monday’s. Wren said his main goal now is to get the cities of Presidio, Pecos and Fort Stockton to pass regulations and switch over to observatory-friendly lighting.
But in the end, Jeff Davis, Presidio and Brewster counties already have light regulations. So the law will likely bring little change to the tri-county area. The counties that are going to be affected by the new law — Pecos and Reeves, which don’t currently regulate light usage — are hundreds of miles from the Indian Lodge that hosted the meeting.
Wren said he hoped Monday would kick off a miniature tour of the region, with Pecos and Reeves counties pegged as next stops.
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