Dripping Springs to be given dark sky award
At night in Dripping Springs, the formerly rural Hill Country hamlet, one can see the faint pulsing glow of light from Austin, 20 miles to the east.
But the stars overhead still burn bright, thanks, in part, to rules passed a little more than a decade ago to cut down glare under the city’s control.
On Tuesday, Dripping Springs will be the fourth city in the United States to win recognition from the International Dark Sky Association as a dark sky community.
The outdoor lighting rules were passed by the Dripping Springs City Council in 2000, just as development in the increasingly suburban town took off.
“There were a lot of people moving out here, and a lot of the old-time residents said, ‘We cherish out night sky and want to save it,’” said Cindy Luongo Cassidy, who works as a lighting consultant in the area and did much of the leg-work in nominating Dripping Springs for the award, which will be given at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
With the city seeing its population increase by about 72 percent between 2000 and 2010, the 2000 lighting ordinance and subsequent revisions are meant to check the glare associated with big cities.
“The skies are not as dark as they were 25 years ago,” said Dripping Springs planning director Jon Thompson. “But this is an attempt to mitigate the (consequences of) growth. There are little things we can do to keep a rural town — at least keep that feel. And preserving the dark skies is one of those things.”
The ordinance, which applies to new homes and businesses within the city limits, aims to reduce “light trespass,” or the falling of light on properties other than the one where the light is installed, and light pollution, the floating of light into the sky. It sets guidelines for the direction outdoor lights ought to be pointed — downward — and the sort of shield that ought to be placed around them. The ordinance limits the amount of light that may shine from new commercial development.
Exceptions include lighting for the holidays, for emergency operations, and for the safe operation of aircraft.
Keeping skies dark “is not just a concern for astronomers anymore,” said John Barentine, a program manager of the Arizona-based International Dark Sky Association. He said light pollution affects wildlife and is a matter of energy security.
“A lot of light at night goes straight into sky. It’s like watching dollar signs float into the sky,” he said.
Austin has a milder lighting ordinance, one that does not set limits on the overall intensity of light that can shine from new commercial development. The city backed away from requiring some properties to come into compliance with anti-light-pollution guidelines by 2015.
“This is a really tough part of our lighting world, how to do responsible outdoor lighting,” said Charles Thompson, a lighting designer in Austin.
For trying to keep its skies dark, Dripping Springs joins Flagstaff, Ariz., Borrego Springs, Calif., and Homer Glenn, Ill. as American dark sky communities. Designations are based on stringent outdoor lighting standards and innovative community outreach.
BY ASHER PRICE – AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF