Are the stars out tonight?



In this time of booming Western tourism, the star-filled night sky has become a valuable natural resource. That's why Moab, Utah, is trying to regulate commercial light pollution.

City planner Janet Lowe says people come to Moab, a town enviably placed between Arches and Canyonlands national parks, to experience the area's natural beauty. Now, she says, Moab's growth adds a glare to the night sky above Arches.

The push for a city light ordinance began almost a year ago, when a local anti-sign group realized that the light coming from illuminated signs was a bigger problem than the signs themselves. The group recommended that the city planning commission and council draft an ordinance, a task the commission delegated to Lowe. The ordinance, still in draft stage, requires businesses to make sure their signs do not emit light above the horizon line and establishes a curfew for commercial lights.

Some local businesses, however, say they have to provide lighting to protect their customers at night. Mark Walker, owner of a Phillips 66 gas station in Moab, says businesses like his have invested heavily in their lighting, adding that the city should at least include a grandfather clause. "We're gonna fight it to the end," he says.

Lowe argues that the ordinance encourages businesses to use energy-efficient lighting and would save them millions of dollars. Dave Wood of the National Park Service agrees, calling the ordinance a "win-win" situation. Wood adds that it is becoming more and more important for national parks and their gateway communities to work together, because these metropolitan areas are growing ever closer to the parks that sustain their economies.

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