Increases in light pollution are inevitable in southern Arizona, as population grows. The area surrounding FLWO in Pima and Santa Cruz County is protected by reasonable outdoor lighting codes to minimize the impact of light pollution on astronomical research and on the experience of the night sky for everyone. However, our vigilance is essential to ensure that light-pollution is minimized.
A view from the summit (click image to magnify to 2Kx400 pixels). Landmarks, settlements and developments are marked. Note: The VERITAS site is no longer as indicated in this image.
A recent view of lights near FLWO.
A good example of light pollution under control in Monte Patria, Chile, 60km south of CTIO, before and after switching (in 2005) from mercury vapor to low-pressure sodium street lights. (Reference: Physics Today, June 2005.) Note: per Arizona Revised Statutes 49-1104, mercury vapor lights are not allowed in Arizona.
SB1193 first read 01/24/05The bill would have weakened the ability of municipalities to enforce local ordinances regarding billboard and outdoor advertisements, as is the case for the city of Tucson. See Governor Napolitano's veto (PDF) letter.
adopted 04/28/05 16-14 Senate
HB2461 first read 01/20/05The bill would have allowed flashing LED electronic billboards to be erected "off-premise" and was strongly opposed by neighborhood associations and the astronomical community and industry in Southern Arizona. See Governor Napolitano's veto (PDF) letter. See also a 10 May 2005 Arizona Daily Star report (PDF).
adopted 04/14/05 19-10 House
adopted 05/02/05 16-13 Senate
The hearing took place at an auditorium in the old dog track buildings in Amado, now the "De Anza Trails RV Resort." The P&ZC rejected the request unanimously (8-0) after nearly 5 hours of presentations from SCC staff and the developers, as well as opinions from a packed audience. These opinions were in overwhelming opposition. They arose from the size of the proposed development, which would have meant a radical change to an area designated as scenic and rural in the CLUP. In no small part, the proximity and expected lumens from the project were a significant component of the opposition (see a supportive GV News editorial) (PDF).
In Sahuarita, Rancho Sahuarita Marketplace (a new shopping area next to I-19) has started construction. We were involved with the developers and the town of Sahuarita in the process of lighting design for this development. The developers chose to exercise their right to use the now-superseded 1993 outdoor lighting code to which they are apparently entitled under the initial development agreement. There are still significant issues with uplights on trees and shrubbery. Unfortunately, the old code lacks the lumen limits of the modern (2004) code.
There are also proposals for more than 10,000 new houses in SCC, in the Tubac-Amado area. The proposed developments would fall within the most highly-protected 12.5-mile radius from the summit of Mt. Hopkins. (Such protection derives from the Pima County-Tucson outdoor lighting code.) We will report on the plans as they are presented to the public, and we will continue to interact with developers and County staff to minimize their impact on the night sky.
Two large developments near Tubac, Las Mesas with 1,244 acres and Sopori Ranch with 6,076 acres with a total of over 10,000 housing units, requested amendments to the CLUP (see above) to increase their housing densities by factors of several over the numbers allowed by current zoning. Brocious and Falco spoke at P&ZC hearings, describing the outdoor lighting effects of the increases, which were well outside the intent of the CLUP. They were turned down as proposed by the SCC P&ZC in late 2007. That seemed reasonable, as the requests would result in extreme deviations from the CLUP. However, the final word belongs to the BOS (see above), and in a 2-1 decision the BOS ignored the P&ZC recommendations and approved the requests for both proposed developments, as described in a 12/13/07 GV News article. Subsequently, the Coalition for Responsible Growth was formed and its first action was to collect signatures for a referendum to reverse the BOS decision, as described in an 01/11/08 GV News article. The 2 separate petitions, one for Las Mesas and the other for Sopori Ranch, were signed by more than 2,000 people each, compared to the minimum required of 828 signatures. The referendum will be in the November 4, 2008 ballot in SCC.
The Border Patrol (BP) proposed in 2007 to establish a permanent checkpoint on I-19 at about km 52, near a rest stop about 10 mi from Mt. Hopkins. We engaged in a dialog with BP to try to ensure that, if the plans are implemented, lighting from the checkpoint will be adequately shielded. The permanent checkpoint idea was abandoned late in 2007 after significant opposition from area residents. However, a checkpoint on I-19, km 42 that has been in place for more than a year remains in use. The site is under an overpass at the Agua Linda exit. It has extremely bright lights that are poorly shielded and improperly aimed. Here are some views of the checkpoint at night. To follow up on our dialog, in early Feb 2008, we wrote a letter to the BP expressing our concerns about the I-19 checkpoint and about a similarly bright one on Arivaca Road west of Amado, and suggesting ways to improve the lighting and minimize uplight. As of 03/12/08, we have not had a response, but we plan to continue the dialog.
The Secure Border Initiative (SBI) is a DHS "comprehensive multi-year plan to secure America's borders and reduce illegal migration" (DHS press release, 11/02/05). It includes "A comprehensive and systemic upgrading of the technology used in controlling the border, including increased manned aerial assets, expanded use of UAVs, and next-generation detection technology;" as well as "Increased investment in infrastructure improvements at the border - providing additional physical security to sharply reduce illegal border crossings;" (from the same press release). On 05/09/07, we expressed our concerns here. The program has encountered significant delays. In particular the supposedly high-tech "virtual fence" being built along a 28-mile stretch of the border in Arizona (SW of FLWO), has been delayed several months by technical problems, some of which remain fully unresolved (NY Times 03/06/08).
Augusta Resources (AR) of Canada has proposed a new open-pit copper mine (Rosemont) in the Santa Rita mountains, about 10 miles NE of FLWO in Pima County. The proposal was made in 2006, but it has encountered significant opposition, as shown here. It has also prompted Congressional action to try to modify the 1872 General Mining Act. As the mine would use Coronado National Forest land, the Forest Service, as required by regulations, is proceeding with the NEPA process. It will operate day and night, but as of yet, we do not know the details of the lighting the mine would have. Dust emissions would also be a concern.
Santa Cruz County Outdoor Lighting Code: success! After a protracted process that we started in 2002, Santa Cruz County is now ready to adopt an updated outdoor lighting code. It will become Article 28 of the Zoning and Development Code. The 9-member Planning & Zoning Commission unanimously accepted the text of the code with minor modifications at its 27 March 2008 public hearing. Dan Brocious, Emilio Falco as well as a number of amateur astronomers and county residents were in attendance and expressed their support for the new code. The next and final step will be consideration by the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors at a public hearing before this summer.
On 11 June 2008, the 3-member Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors unanimously accepted the new outdoor lighting code as Article 28 of the Zoning and Development Code. Article 28 (PDF) became effective on 11 July 2008. We thank the P&Z commission, the director of community development of Santa Cruz County, Ms. Mary Dahl and her staff for their efforts, and Santa Cruz County Supervisors Maynard, Damon and Ruiz for their support in adopting this code.
The referenda on the Las Mesas and Sopori Ranch requests for major amendments to the Santa Cruz County Comprehensive Land Use Plan (Propositions 400 and 401) took place on November 4, 2008. A yes vote for these propositions would have let stand the BOS decision to approve the requests. Both propositions received about 71% no votes and 29% yes votes, thus overturning the BOS decision.
Unfortunately, our concerns regarding light pollution,
dust pollution and likely vibrations due to blasting remain
largely unresolved, but we will pursue the discussion as much as