SANDY -- Ernest Hemingway was in search of "a clean, well-lighted place."
Not Tim Erskine. This Sandy resident prefers darkness at night, and says it's getting harder to find."I still have an appreciation for the beauty of the night sky," the mechanical engineer and amateur astronomer said. "For centuries people have looked up into the night and felt close to the stars. But today that's pretty much lost, washed away in the lights of the city."
Light pollution is an increasingly appreciated phenomenon across the country and in Utah. Lights from parking lots, sports parks and stadiums, commercial buildings, and even residential streets can make it nearly impossible to see the stars in some metro areas.
"I've seen a difference in Sandy in just the last six years," Erskine said. "The car dealerships on Automall Drive are lit up like a surgery center. The old Incredible Universe building has lights on all night, even though it's been empty for two years."
The last straw for Erskine was a street light Sandy city tried to install in front of his house recently. He says the acorn-shaped lights waste two-thirds of their energy in sideways and upward glare.
"Light pours through people's windows and up into tree branches, but these things don't light the street below well at all," he said.
Erskine is making a formal presentation to the Sandy City Council Tuesday night. Hecontends that energy-efficient, shielded fixtures would cut back on the blinding glare, and save the city thousands of dollars on its electric bill.
But 3,500 of the 4,000 street lights the city has contracted to install are already in place. And while City Council Chairman Scott Cowdell says he's eager to hear what Erskine has to say, it's unlikely the street lighting project will stop.
"I wish we would have had this information four years ago, during our public comment period on the project," he said.
In 1995, Sandy residents voted to increase taxes by $5 a month to pay for street lighting, according to the city's assistant director of public utilities, Malcolm Nash.
"The majority of people said yes, they'd like more lighting in the city, and they were willing to pay for it," he said.
Cowdell agrees; he's heard mostly positive reaction to the lights, and residents frequently ask him when the light on their street will be installed.
"I really don't know how we'd deal with changing this now anyway," he said. "It might be expensive to retrofit these things, and I would never vote to extend the bond for this project."
Cowdell says the information provided to the council four years ago indicated that crime would be reduced in Sandy 3 to 5 percent just from better lighting on the streets alone.
But Robert Gent, spokesman for the International Dark-Sky Association, headquartered in Tucson, Ariz., quotes contradictory studies. He says lighting gives people a sense of security but has never actually been found to reduce crime.
"We don't want everyone to live in darkness all the time," he said. "We're just asking people to light responsibly, to use the lighting level that's just right, not overkill."Comment on this story
Light pollution opponents in Utah have already achieved some success in influencing lighting ordinances in Park City and Tooele County. David Chamberlin, a member of Salt Lake Astronomical Society, is measuring the output of light fixtures in Salt Lake City and the University of Utah to confirm complaints similar to those of Erskine in Sandy.
"Actually, I've talked to a number of community councils about this," Chamberlin said. "They've all listened and been interested. What they don't realize yet is just how fixable this problem can be. We're talking about a kind of pollution that's 100 percent recoverable."