City works on dark skies ordinance
Last updated 10/17/2023 at 9:16am
The Sisters City Council affirmed a commitment to preserving Sisters’ dark skies during their workshop on Wednesday, October 11.
City of Sisters planning staff is working on a revised dark skies ordinance, and sought input from the Council on some key courses of action. A draft ordinance is expected to come before the City Council for approval soon.
Councilors agreed that public lighting — street lights and lights on public buildings — should not be exempt in the ordinance, and operate under the same rules as everyone else. That could require that the streetlights along Cascade Avenue be replaced. Community Development Director Scott Woodford estimated the cost of that replacement as up to $100,000.
Council President Andrea Blum asked if there were any options short of replacement. Public Works crews are working on retrofitting some shielding on lights, but their design doesn’t allow them to be fully shielded as a new ordinance will require.
The potential cost sparked discussion as to whether the City should seek International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) Certification, which would act similarly to the Tree City USA designation to set standards for the City. Mayor Michael Preedin strongly urged the Council to seek that designation, and by the end of discussion there was a general consensus to do so.
Another point of discussion revolved around how tightly the City wants to regulate popular string lights. The Council favors setting a curfew for such lighting, perhaps at 10 p.m. rather than the proposed 11 p.m.
“This whole Dark Skies Ordinance is useless if we have 3,000 string lights on at 2 a.m.,” Councilor Gary Ross said.
Woodford reported that there is strong support among the business community for dark skies restrictions, but some businesses need exemptions for safety reasons. Some businesses would be negatively impacted by curfews. Business owners also hope for time and perhaps financial support to bring non-conforming lighting into compliance.
An IDA consultant noted that there are no government programs to provide such financial support currently, but some communities have had success with private fundraising.
Woodford noted that the new ordinance will have strong provisions to make sure that lighting in new construction complies with dark skies goals.
Speaking in later visitor communications, Sisters resident Paul Bennett expressed support for dark skies regulations, and education of citizens that “your lights do affect your neighbors.”
He also urged the City to seek IDA certification.
“Even if you don’t reach an IDA goal, it’s good to have a goal,” he said. “Reach for something you really want.”