Twinkle, twinkle little streetlight
Starlight, star bright, where's that star I saw last night? Residents in Douglas County have noticed something missing - stars in the nighttime sky.
The city of Alexandria has grown substantially in the past decade. With growth comes development; with development comes those bright city lights, which without proper regulations can result in light pollution.
Light pollution is unwanted or excessive artificial light and wasted energy. Electromagnetic waves transmit light produced by electricity and since electricity can be generated by the combustion of fossil fuels, a link between light and air pollution is formed.
While air pollution can be measured by air quality and particulates in the atmosphere, light pollution is less corporeal. However, light pollution can be reduced through regulations.
Alexandria City Planner Mike Weber said light pollution is like climate change; it's everywhere you look.
Larger cities like New York City have less access to the night sky, obviously, and towns of 20,000 or more can have difficulty seeing some constellations.
"You won't see what you see here," Weber said.
The Alexandria city zoning ordinance calls for outdoor lighting to be hooded and directed away from residential areas and streets to prevent diminished ability to see the night sky.
However, streetlights are not the only contributors to light pollution in a community. Headlights from cars and bicycle lights shine outward. Weber said parking lots are required to be screened to prevent this light from being obtrusive into people's homes. Display lights in businesses also add to the complex issue of light pollution.
POLLUTION GETS PERSONAL
Barbara Benson has lived on Lake Cowdry for 42 years where her family has reveled in observing the night sky.
"From our boat, our pajama-clad family used our wondering eyes and sometimes our simple binoculars to scour the sky for its mystery," Benson said.
Since the 1980s Benson has noticed less and less of the sky she had grown to know and love.
Instead of seeing the dancing aura of the northern lights, she now sees the glowing halo from street lamps and fears for the day when her country home is annexed into the city and a blaring light shines obtrusively over her home and outward into the night.
Alexandria Light and Power lights the city. Runestone Electric Association handles county lighting.
Weber said if there were enough people in an area opposed to installation of a street light there is a chance it may not be erected. However, lighting is necessary for safety in areas such as intersections.
Benson understands the safety and security reasoning behind installing lights and also knows that something can be done to reach compromises.
"You'll notice that the parking lot of Tastefully Simple has all down-lights," Benson said. "I was told the choice of lighting was in response to my concern."
Benson had informed a friend who worked at the company that the upward lighting on the Tastefully Simple building on Highway 45 had a big impact on night sky viewing. The newest addition to the company is more light-conscious.
There are a variety of terms used to describe types of light pollution: light trespass, glare, clutter, energy waste, urban sky glow - it all means light is not being used as efficiently as possible. To help harness the potential of light, use the correct light fixture in regard to wattage and height.
For more information on light pollution, to see how you can help decrease its effect on the night sky and to view images, visit www.darksky.org.
LIGHT POLLUTION PREVENTION
Here are some tips on how to avoid light pollution:
Use only the amount of light you need.
Shield lights pointing down.
Use light timers.
Use low pressure sodium (LPS) fixtures.
Shield globe lights.
Share tips with neighbors.
Crystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.