600Dark Skies: 50 year celebration
- Apr 16, 2008from: Arizona Daily Sun
Dark skies at 50: All win
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Fifty years ago, Flagstaff adopted a pioneering outdoor lighting
ordinance aimed at preserving the dark skies essential to the
continued viability of area observatories. Our town was the first in
Arizona to take such action.
As the population grew over the years, Flagstaff strengthened its
lighting ordinance and Coconino County enacted a very similar and
closely coordinated measure. Flagstaff astronomers are deeply
grateful for the support of the City, the County and our fellow
citizens. We should not forget, however, that the benefits of the
lighting ordinances extend beyond the observatories. For example, as
the Dark Sky Coalition has often noted, it is not just astronomers
who appreciate the beauty of the night sky. Unlike their urban
cousins, our kids grow up experiencing this spectacular component of
our natural environment.
In addition to esthetic benefits, the Flagstaff area derives an
ongoing financial return on its dark skies investment. Since 1958,
Lowell has grown from approximately 15 employees to more than 70. Our
annual operating budget of about $5 million is fueled by funds that
primarily originate outside and are spent inside the community. The
same can be said about the budget of the U.S. Naval Observatory
Flagstaff Station (USNOFS).
Encouraged by the community commitment to dark skies, both Lowell and
USNOFS have continued to make major capital investments in Northern
Arizona. According to a study by NAU's Center for Business Outreach,
Lowell's Discovery Channel Telescope, now under construction near
Happy Jack, will deliver an economic benefit to Coconino County, over
the useful lifetime of the telescope, of nearly a half-billion
dollars. The Navy Prototype Optical Interferometer at Anderson Mesa
is a project of similar scale.
Flagstaff is widely known as a community of dark skies and
observatories. This is a rare combination that sets our town apart
and helps draw a growing number of visitors. Last year, just under
76,000 people visited Lowell. Most were from out of town and about
half took part in our evening and nighttime programs. These people
eat in Flagstaff restaurants, buy gas at our filling stations, and
shop in our stores. Many spend the night here.
Flagstaff has demonstrated that astronomer-friendly outdoor lighting
is safe, attractive, and effective. It also is cost-effective. A
recent study by Chris Luginbuhl and Wes Lockwood estimates that, if
Flagstaff's current lighting standards were achieved throughout
Arizona, energy consumption would be reduced by 360 million kilowatt-
hours per year at a cost savings of $30 million annually. Nearly
200,000 fewer tons of carbon dioxide would go into the atmosphere.
Indeed, it is essential that better outdoor lighting controls be
enacted statewide. The burgeoning population growth in the Valley and
in Pinal County is already adversely affecting Kitt Peak National
Observatory west of Tucson. Even from Anderson Mesa, on any clear
dark night, one can easily see the ominous glow from the Phoenix area
climbing above the southern horizon. At stake is the state's widely
acknowledged premier position in optical astronomy and the
corresponding large contribution in dollars and jobs to Arizona's
economy. (Visit the website of the Arizona Arts, Sciences, and
Technology Academy for details.) This story will have a happy ending
only if Arizona's political and business leaders engage this issue
seriously and soon.
Let's all take pride in Flagstaff's designation as the First
International Dark Sky City and give thanks for the wisdom of City
and County leaders who, over the past half-century, took important
steps to preserve the glory of the nighttime heavens for us all.
Bob Millis is the director of Lowell Observatory.
PS: I used to know Bob Millis as a nodding acquaintance---years after
I had given the tours for a year during my masters work at Northern
Arizona University. I don't shop at much at the uphill Basha's
grocery anymore. R Blake