Star Light Less Bright
While keeping in mind the many attractions that Dahlonega has to offer tourists and locals alike, the city council voted unanimously at its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 2, to draft an ordinance to protect one of the city's biggest commodities: its dark skies.
The issue came to light when several city staffers and council members noticed the newly installed, and particularly bright, lighting at the Days Inn on Crown Mountain.
Days Inn general manager Vasant Patel told The Nugget that the new lighting at the hotel was installed due to liability and safety concerns for his customers.
But he also expressed a willingness to work with the city to find an amicable resolution.
"We can work together," said Patel. "I can change the angle of the lights, the brightness or whatever else needs to be changed. I just need to have someone tell me what to do."
Dahlonega’s starry night sky is something that the council members all agreed they need to preserve.
"With all of the attention we have given to signs and all the great work this council and prior councils have done to regulate signage, this is something that is grossly overlooked," said councilman Ron Larson. "I think it is clearly important to maintain good safety practices and control the amount of light pollution in the city."
While light pollution can be defined in general as the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light, but it can also be divided into more specific components such as glare, skyglow, light trespass and light clutter.
City manager Bill Schmid suggested that the council look at ordinances from other jurisdictions to get ideas on what should be included in the outdoor lighting ordinance with an eye towards restricting the risk to the public.
"It is too early at this point to say with certainty what the parameters for future lighting in Dahlonega might be," said Schmid in an email to The Nugget. "Most jurisdictions with lighting ordinances consider issues like public safety, brightness, coverage areas, angles, etc. Some consider warmth of light. It is safe to say we will look at some commonsense solutions that have proven workable in other jurisdictions."
NO MORE MILKY WAY?
Council member JoAnne Taylor commented that the dark skies of Dahlonega were one of the reasons she moved to the city and that those dark skies are disappearing.
"I can't see the Milky Way anymore from my home," said Taylor. "I think light pollution might be the cause."
Former University of North Georgia professor Dr. Joseph Jones, who was the Director of the North Georgia Astronomical Observatory for 25 years, said he believes that the lack of an outdoor lighting ordinance could be catastrophic to the Dark Circle of Georgia, a circular area spanning from Blue Ridge to Blairsville which has not yet been impacted by light pollution.
"Light pollution increases with population density and since we're still a small town, I think the problem is still a moderate one at present," said Jones. "However, without a lighting ordinance it could get much worse. Light clutter and glare could quickly have a negative impact in a city that always makes the top 10 lists in travel publications and is a prime spot for television movies. Of course, a major reason Dahlonega gets visitors is the 'eco' and 'agri' tourism in town and surrounding us. Dark natural skies are a significant part of the draw and the city and county could take the lead in reducing light pollution in the region with a well considered and forward looking ordinance."
Jones said he believes that light clutter and glare are the biggest issues with lighting in the city currently.
"However, there are a couple of general lighting principles that can greatly reduce all these aspects of light pollution,” he said.
Jones suggested that "fully shielded" light fixtures, especially on street lights, can help reduce the amount of glare, light trespass and light clutter.
“These fixtures can actually increase the useful reach of the illuminated area around each light allowing fewer total lights to illuminate a given area," Jones said. "I could imagine the city and the square with all fully shielded lights to reduce glare and light clutter on the street level and sky glow above so that visitors dinning on the porches and at the outside areas could view the stars over their heads even in the middle of town."
With many factors to examine and several different aspects of light pollution to consider, Schmid knows that the drafting of an outdoor lighting ordinance for Dahlonega will not be an easy or quick task.
"Even at this early stage, some of the 'model' ordinances we might consider may be too unwieldy of us," Schmid said. "Because it is a specialty field, this could take a while to develop for specific recommendation."