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Cottonwood Shores weighs protecting night skies from light pollution

Dark night skies in Texas

As more people move to the Highland Lakes, protecting the night skies has become an important goal for local communities, including Cottonwood Shores and Granite Shoals. Photo by Chase Fountain of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

The Cottonwood Shore City Council wants residents to enjoy the sky at night. Councilors are also encouraging other local communities to join them — along with Granite Shoals — in becoming part of the International Dark-Sky Association.

The association was founded in 2001 to urge communities, parks, and other protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark skies through responsible lighting policies and public education. 

While Granite Shoals is at the beginning stages of learning about the program, Cottonwood Shores Councilor Roger Wayson brought the program to the council about a year ago. He wrote the ordinance that council members are expected to review when they meet Oct. 21. 

But as the council looked at the ordinance during its Oct. 7 meeting, a couple of residents expressed concern with the program.

“I don’t try to light my neighborhood,” resident Gary Black said, “but I like to see my property. I appreciate light. I want to see the stars also. I like darkness. I like to see the streets, too. I like to see traffic intersections and streets.”

“I like a lot of light myself,” Councilor Michael Hibdon said, “but I like it down. I like to look at the stars and the Milky Way. We have lost that. Do we want to give that up? This protection is to help support and to see the beautiful heavens.”  

The discussion reaffirmed to Wayson that he needed to talk to people about the program, its benefits, and why it’s important.

“The first thing is Dark Skies means direct the lights where they need to be and not shining upwards,” he told DailyTrib.com. “It shouldn’t be shining into neighbors’ windows or backyards.”

Becoming a Dark Skies community doesn’t mean pulling the plug on outdoor lighting around private residences, businesses, or streets. It promotes lighting that directs the light where it’s meant to go and not from shooting skyward, where it competes with and washes out the stars and night skies. 

Residents who live in Cottonwood Shores are “grandfathered in,” which means if the ordinance passes, it doesn’t force them to immediately change bulbs, easements, and fixtures.

And Dark Skies doesn’t count light from vehicles as part of the program, Wayson added. 

“If you’re driving a car, you need to see in front of you,” he said. “If you’re in a park, you need the lights in a park. You need the light wherever you need it.”

One part of the ordinance councilors reviewed is regarding full-shielded fixtures, which are installed fixtures that are shielded in such a manner that all light rays emitted by them, either directly from the lamps or indirectly from the fixtures, are projected below a horizontal plane. Fully shielded lights are designed to minimize flare, thereby reducing light trespass and skyglow. 

Skyglow results from light that is unnecessarily directed upward and scattered by the atmosphere rather than focused directly on a target area. Obtrusive light, or light trespass, is distributed where it is not wanted or needed. 

“We’re not trying to dim lighting; we’re trying to direct it in a different direction,” Wayson said. “You can use any bulbs you want if you direct them correctly.”

To join the program, Cottonwood Shores has to be sponsored by an entity that is already part of the International Dark-Sky Association, which would be Horseshoe Bay. That city joined the program in 2012. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area also is a member.

“We did it for quality of life,” Horseshoe Bay City Manager Stan Farmer said. “We wanted to keep our quality of life. We appreciate our night skies without light pollution. I can go out on my driveway or street at night and look up and don’t feel like I can see light pollution. I feel like we can see the night skies very well.”

The city of Horseshoe Bay doesn’t have street lights, which makes it easier for people to see the stars. 

“I moved out here to see the stars,” Wayson said about Cottonwood Shores. “We often can do that and Austin can’t. Light pollution is the only pollution we can stop immediately.”

jfierro@thepicayune.com

1 thought on “Cottonwood Shores weighs protecting night skies from light pollution

  1. YEAH!!!!!
    I am so happy that others feel the same on this aspect of keeping with the Hill Country feel!!
    I love this!!!
    Glad to see and read the opinion of Cottonwood’s view on this matter!!
    Keeping with the de facto state song. “Deep in the Heart of Texas”
    “The lyrics go,‘The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas,’
    Let’s not lose our identity

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