Bright future for Eagle Mountain’s dark sky lovers

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The mayor of Eagle Mountain wants to shield the night skies around the Utah city from the effects of too much man-made light.

Known as light pollution, illumination spilling from homes, stores and buildings can obscure the view for stargazers and make night training more difficult for soldiers at the nearby Camp Williams, said Mayor Chris Pengra.

“Right now as a young city, this is really the only time to preserve the night sky for everyone else’s benefit,” Pengra told The Daily Herald of Provo. The Eagle Mountain city council last week considered an ordinance designed to limit the reach of the town’s artificial light.

Light pollution is increasingly an issue in Utah, where some of the country’s fastest-growing cities are often nestled up against the state’s abundant open spaces.

“Utah is one of the national leaders in this area now,” said John Barentine, program manager for the Tucson, Arizona-based International Dark Sky Association. Rangers in the state’s national parks, including the country’s first dark sky park, Natural Bridges, lead night hikes for visitors seeking a starry view seldom seen in more populated areas.

Pengra moved to Eagle Mountain partially because of its sweeping night views.

“Right now as a young city, this is really the only time to preserve the night sky for everyone else’s benefit,” he told the Daily Herald. The city of about 24,000 people is located about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Utah’s first light pollution ordinance was passed in part of Weber County seven years ago, said Janet Muir, a member of the Ogden Valley chapter of the International Dark Sky Association.

“We have the juxtaposition: We’re highly urbanized and we have vast scenic beauty. The night sky is a natural resource that we have,” said Muir.

In cities, light from street lights, lighted signs, and buildings can scatter and leave skies in cities looking gray and starless at night. It can also affect migrating birds and other wildlife. In Florida, for example, baby sea turtles are dying when their instincts to the brightest thing on the horizon lead them to parking lots and streets rather than the ocean after they hatch, Barentine said.

There’s also some evidence that too much artificial light could affect human health by interrupting the body’s internal clock, Barentine said.

In Utah, meanwhile, more complete darkness can also help with military training. Eagle Mountain is adjacent to Camp Williams, and darker skies make flying easier for National Guard helicopter pilots and night-vision training more effective for soldiers.

The proposed ordinance in Eagle Mountain could include outdoor light curfews, height restrictions for light fixtures and limits on illuminated signs. The city council tabled the bill this week as it works through questions like how it would affect holiday lights.

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