Brewster County Commissioners on May 26 decided to adopt a newly revised outdoor lighting ordinance.
Addressing commissioners were Bill Wren, dark skies advocate from the University of Texas McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, and Bob Krumenaker, Superintendent of Big Bend National Park.
Wren provided an overview of the original ordinance first implemented in the 1970s, saying the Texas Legislature had given seven adjoining counties explicit permission to enact outdoor lighting ordinances to protect the night sky for ongoing astronomical research at McDonald Observatory. And in 2011, then Texas Governor Rick Perry had signed a bill into law mandating the ordinance.
“We think the ordinance is in dire need of being updated, since it was put on in the 1970s,” said Wren.
He indicated the newly revised ordinance would include current lighting practices and new technology that would make the old ordinance obsolete.
Krumenaker then shifted to the economic impact of dark skies, and said in 2019 visitors spent $46 million dollars in Brewster County, with about 600 jobs created.
“The bottom line is the dark skies are a huge draw to this park,” he said. “If visitation goes up, the county’s economic impact goes up. The night skies in Brewster County are a terrific way to enhance the quality and numbers of visitors at Big Bend National Park.”
Commissioner, Pct. 2, Sara Allen Colando, fully supported the new lighting ordinance and emphasized educating residents on best practices for night sky friendly lighting.
Commissioner, Pct. 3 Ruben Ortega, disagreed, and cited enforcement and safety issues, saying it was not acceptable, and there were already too many regulations in place. County Judge Eleazar Cano said educating people instead of fining them was preferable, and the fine for violators be reduced to $200. The commissioners approved.
Colando then made a motion to adopt the revised outdoor lighting ordinance. The ordinance passed with a 4-1 vote, with Ortega being the lone opponent.
In other business, County Emergency Management Coordinator Stephanie Elmore announced that she and Commissioner, Pct. 4, Mike Pallanez and County Road & Bridge Superintendent Frenchie Causey had looked at more possible dry hydrant installation sites at South Double Diamond. Two new water tanks are slated to be set up this month, and several more in the future, including Marathon and Terlingua.
Finally, Elmore asked commissioners to restrict certain aerial fireworks sales and prohibit certain aerial fireworks in unincorporated areas of Brewster County because of drought conditions. The restrictions would include missiles with fins and rockets with sticks. Commissioners unanimously approved the restriction.
The next regularly scheduled commissioners court meeting is set for Wednesday, June 9, at 9:30 a.m. via Facebook Live.