Chesterton Tribune

Astronomers persuade commissioners to pass light pollution prevention resolution

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Porter County will be seeing stars, and in a good way.

County commissioner president Robert Harper, D-Center, and fellow commissioner John Evans, R-North, were the first in the state to approve a resolution that endorses the reduction of light pollution, a term for excessive outdoor lighting.

Less light pollution means the nighttime skies will be more visible to those below the ether.

“We think it’s important,” said Harper, who mentioned that the resolution has also met approval from the county plan commission.

Harper is also president of the nine-member plan commission board. He said the resolution relates to the “green space” ordinance to preserve the natural qualities of the county. He said the resolution will aid the plan commission and that no new rules have been established yet.

County attorney Gwenn Rinkenberger gave her approval Tuesday saying she found nothing harmful in the resolution.

“This is so cool,” responded Chicago astronomer Audrey Fischer who brought the resolution to the commissioners’ desks.

“Porter County has the potential to become a leader in the area of artificial outdoor illumination practices by promoting a diversified team effort implementing sound environmental policies which will benefit residents of Porter County, students of the universities, guests who visit the Indiana Dunes National Shoreline and serve as a positive example for the nation to follow,” Fischer wrote in the resolution.

She said she chose to present her resolution to Porter County because of the Dunes Lakeshore and said that if communities work together to reduce light pollution, the Milky Way can come into view in the dunes’ night sky.

“Light pollution is a global problem,” she said as indicated in a report done last year by the American Medical Association. “Porter County has a good handle on (pollution), but they just need to preserve what can be seen in the sky.”

One of the ways to diminish light pollution, Fischer said, is to install lights on city streets that direct their beams straight down instead of allowing the light to scatter through the atmosphere up to 100 miles or more.

Fischer, who does her astronomy work as a volunteer, is a member of several prominent astronomy associations such as the Chicago Astronomers Society and the International Dark-Sky Association where she is a board member. She also helped found the One Star at a Time program and StarPals that educate children on a global level on the importance of astronomy.

StarPals’ first event connected Chicago school children with another school in Jerusalem through Skype Video conferencing as they both watched the Orion Nebula.

The program, she said, is “global” and let’s children around the world realize the sky is something they all share. “We can explore together.”

The ultimate goal of Fisher’s programs aside from reducing light pollution would be to introduce “StarParks” or astronomy clubs into every community on a worldwide scale where children and community members can bring with them a telescope or check one out to stargaze.

Two major viewing sites currently in the region are the Valparaiso University Observatory and Purdue University Calumet’s NIRo telescope in Lake County. Both schools had faculty members who wrote recommendations for the resolution to the county commissioners.

Fisher said the National Parks Service indicated in a study last year that by the year 2025, it is expected that less than ten percent of people will ever experience a starry night unless measures are taken. She said the upcoming generation will believe having a sky absent of starlight is normal.

Fischer’s efforts caught the attention of a few locals with an interest in preserving the view of celestial views, primarily the Milky Way.

"Stars are beautiful,” said Chesterton resident Mark Montgomery, who came to support the resolution after reading about it in newspapers.

Michigan City resident Larry Silvestri said he has only been able to see the Milky Way “faintly” from the dunes and felt losing the night time sky would be taking away “a source of inspiration.”

Supporters of the resolution found Fischer herself a source of inspiration. Fischer has received praise from Chicago Mayor Richard Daily and was instrumental in having a first-ever stargazing event for children at The White House in Washington D.C.

“She’s a pied-piper,” said Illinois Institute of Technology Assistant Physics Professor Jeff Terry. “I’ll help wherever she goes.”

The group treated the commissioners afterwards to a view the planet Jupiter and its moons from a high-powered telescope set up outside the entrance of the county administration building.

“I think it is a great way to get back to nature. You can look up and see what’s going on.” Evans said shortly after getting an up-close look of Jupiter.

Fischer did not expect the commissioners to approve the resolution unanimously and said she was “very pleased” with the vote. “What they did was fantastic,” she told the Chesterton Tribune.

Certain group members of Tuesday night’s astronomers are making the effort to get more local governments throughout the state to pass the resolution, the most immediate of which being the city of Terre Houte.

Emergency Management

to Test Sirens

In other matters, Phil Griffith who is the director of the county’s emergency management, asked the commissioners to consider providing money to replace outdated batteries in a few sirens around the county, two of which are in Pine and Jackson Twp.

It would take approximately $370 to replace the five-year batteries for each siren and another $470 to test the sirens.

Griffith said the townships would like to purchase up to six more sirens to be picked up by the county.

Tests were conducted on Tuesday, Griffith said.

Griffith is seeking a company to do the maintenance work on an annual basis and the commissioners said that EMA could receive bids from interested firms.

Griffith said the Chesterton-based Bartronics handles emergency siren maintenance in a few municipalities including Porter, Chesterton or Westchester Twp., Liberty Twp., Union Twp., and Ogden Dunes.

The commissioners will further discuss the issue with Griffith in four weeks. They will also be speaking on what county building should receive emergency backup power.

In the meantime, DLZ will be inspecting the buildings to see how much power would be needed to generate backup lights, refrigeration, boilers, and the communication systems.

Also on Tuesday, Porter County Sherriff’s Police member Sgt. Bud Gootee, who primarily serves as business manager, told the commissioners the PCSP is wanting to apply for an Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Grant of $10,000 that would help pay for Videotech audio and video equipment to be placed in the patrol room worth approximately $3,599.

The equipment would be used to tape suspect interrogations around the clock which is now required by the Indiana Rules of Court, Gootee said.

The commissioners unanimously approved the PCSP to apply for the grant.

 

Posted 10/6/10