VHEDC considers Dark Skies Initiative

Bad streetlights | The streetlights along Broadway Street spill light in all directions and up into the sky. With no shielding, the exposed globes cause glare, making it difficult to see as well. The old-style light poles wouldn’t qualify for Dark Skies and would need to be replaced. The VHEDC has already discussed replacing them as part of ongoing revitalization plans, since several of the poles are broken. (VHA-Photo/DB)
Bad streetlights | The streetlights along Broadway Street spill light in all directions and up into the sky. With no shielding, the exposed globes cause glare, making it difficult to see as well. The old-style light poles wouldn’t qualify for Dark Skies and would need to be replaced. The VHEDC has already discussed replacing them as part of ongoing revitalization plans, since several of the poles are broken. (VHA-Photo/DB)

By Shanna Cummings

The Van Horn Economic Development Corporation (VHEDC) board welcomed new member Sophia Porter representing Blue Origin during the July 21 regular meeting.

The board heard from Bill Wren via Zoom, who presented on the Dark Skies Initiative and the importance of down-facing fixtures on outdoor lighting to reduce light pollution. He said he hopes the EDC will support the initiative and any relevant city ordinance changes, with the understanding that it might increase tourism. Light pollution reduces visibility of the night sky, and tourists are willing to travel great distances for the best view after dark.

The McDonald Observatory is in the center of a 28,000 square mile area that includes several Texas counties and a part of northern Mexico prized by scientists and tourists alike for its low light pollution. Wren said the town of Van Horn could help further reduce light pollution and possibly increase tourism by changing the types of lighting fixtures on streets and buildings to direct light downward rather than upward above the horizon.

Wren said creating or enforcing these ordinances would not mean residents would be living in the dark. He said fixtures that direct light downward and shield from above provide better visibility for pedestrians than more traditional fixtures that allow light to scatter up and out, creating glare. Upward or nondirected fixtures light up trees and power lines, often at the expense of visibility on the ground. The color of the light matters as well. The bluer “cooler” white lights create more light pollution than the “warmer” more yellow lights. Switching to LED also reduces light pollution as well as electricity usage. 

As an example, he showed the Apache/Altus Diamon Cryo industrial complex located within the Dark Skies zone that uses Dark Skies approved fixtures and bulbs. The change in direction allowed more night visibility of the ground for workers while reducing light pollution. Wren said it was an achievement for the region to have an industrial complex and still qualify for Dark Skies.

Wren intends to visit with the City Council in the near future with the same information, including model language that the city can incorporate into ordinance. Valentine, Marfa, Alpine and Presidio have already adopted language into their ordinances to protect the region’s Dark Skies status. 

This presentation comes at an opportune time, as the VHEDC is contemplating lighting fixtures as part of the downtown revitalization and parking lot projects. The old-style light poles running along both sides of Broadway (playfully called “the runway”) wouldn’t qualify for Dark Skies and would need to be replaced. The VHEDC has already discussed replacing them as part of ongoing revitalization plans, since several of the poles are broken.

Also discussed:

The board discussed the possible location of a Family Dollar at the corner of Broadway and Cypress. Representatives for the Family Dollar said their clients were not interested in changing the layout of the lot to preserve Magnolia Station, which the VHEDC wanted to protect as a historical building. Board president Becky Brewster said according to the current land owners, Magnolia Station has no real historical significance. Board members agreed that without formal city ordinances for historical preservation, they had no recourse. The next step is submission of the plans for engineering review.

The city currently sits ninth in line for grant funding from the Texas Department of Agriculture for the Downtown Revitalization Project. Further word is expected in a couple of months.

The shades and plaque were installed at the municipal pool just in time for Jubilee weekend.