by George Gramlich,
Clint Smith, Vice President of the local Dark Skies organization, was gracious in visiting with the Sentinel last week with regards to a new, revised Dark Skies amendment that his organization is now proposing. You will recall that their original one, now before Custer County’s Planning and Zoning Commission (on their February 5th meeting agenda), was quite oppressive and it also had criminal and monetary penalties for violations. (Although Commissioner Printz denied, in public, multiple times, that the proposal contained those penalties. He has never retracted those comments.) This proposal was widely panned in multiple BOCC and general public meetings as being a massive infringement on our property rights without any compelling state interest.
The new Dark Skies proposal, as outlined in Mr. Smith’s Letter to the Editor (Below) adds a physical light limitation (“3000 degrees Kelvin”) to the existing wording in Custer County’s Zoning Resolution, but as Mr. Smith points out, there are no penalties for violation.
He also makes two other points: 1. Custer County is a “Right to Ranch and Farm County” and that this would exclude any light ordinances for ranches/farms. 2. The existing “light pollution” wording in the current Zoning Resolution ONLY applies to three small subsets of county property: Planned Unit Developments (PUD’s), Special Use Permits (SUP’s) and Home Occupations. Since the current Zoning Resolution has NO light pollution enforcement provisions, and the new, revised one doesn’t either, even those three categories will still be free of any penalties.
Mr. Smith is also the County Attorney. He has his Dark Skies “hat” on here but if his analysis is correct, the new, revised proposal would add a few words to the current non-enforceable light pollution wording in our Zoning Resolution, and still keep it non-enforceable for everybody.
However, Mr. Smith says this wording addition would allow the local Dark Skies organization to apply for Dark Skies
reserve status for the whole county. Is this OK for us property rights advocates, or is it a small step down the slippery slope in the future towards criminal and financial penalties for violations? And, if this somehow does not get what Dark Skies wants (recognition by Dark Skies International for the whole county), will they come back again with another request that is more burdensome?
Plus, there is NO “light pollution” problem in Custer County. So, why bother with new regulation wording at all? Less government is always better. Our property rights are sacred and must be protected.
One other point: This new proposal is a dramatic departure from their original, draconian, county-wide one that required, under criminal and civil penalties, adherence to a strict, well-defined outdoor lighting standard, which drew the ire of most of the county. Why didn’t they start with this new, much “lighter” version in the first place? Did they not understand what property rights mean to us Custerites here high up in the mountains? Perhaps.
In any event, the Planning & Zoning Board will have its hands full again. Let the discussion begin.