Banded Peak School Dark Sky Festival

I had the great opportunity to meet and video some outstanding young adults for a project I am assisting with for the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area. The grade 5 and 6 students from Banded Creek School in Bragg Creek Alberta Canada are sure to be game changers in the future for protecting our dark sky and the world around us!

The Banded Peak School is hosting a Dark Sky Festival that is open to the public on Thursday May 31, 2018 from 1:30 – 5:30 pm.

Don’t let me invite you however, let the fantastic Grade 5 and 6 students do that!

I for one will be doing my very best to attend and cheer on these awesome students and support the role they are taking as future leaders!

I hope that you will attend too!

Long Waits And Slow Action, Time For A Public Push!

It has been a while since I last did a post for Protecting The Dark Sky and I apologize for the time lag. I had hopes that I was holding off on an update because I would have some encouraging news from the Alberta Government.

The sad answer is that there is no such encouraging news.

I received a reply to my direct inquiry to the Alberta Government about the Dark Sky Petition on March 19, 2018.

The reply:

Thank you for your correspondence regarding lighting on the Southwest Calgary Ring Road (SWCRR). I apologize for the delayed response. As the Ministerial Assistant to Honourable Brian Mason, Minister of Alberta Transportation, I am able to provide the following information.

I appreciate your concerns about light pollution and potential harm to nocturnal wildlife. Alberta Transportation’s standard practice is to minimize light pollution and use as little energy for lighting as possible. Environmental sustainability and ecosystem protection are also key considerations in all projects. As a steward of the environment, the department is committed to preserving and protecting wildlife and their habitat during ring road construction.

The SWCRR project contains specific measures to limit any impact lighting might have on the environment while still lighting the road effectively and efficiently. For example, no high-mast lighting is planned along Highway 22X. In addition, the department will use low‑temperature LED lights to minimize blue light, as well as cut-off fixtures to minimize the spread and glare of the lights. The SWCRR project also uses asphalt roads, which reduce the amount of light reflected from the highway. It is unlikely that lighting from the SWCRR will affect the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area or the Rothney Observatory, given they are seven and 11 kilometres away, respectively, from the SWCRR.

Should you have further questions, I encourage you to contact Mr. Rizwan Hussain, Urban Construction Manager – Calgary, at 403-297-5500 or rizwan.hussain@gov.ab.ca.

Thank you for sharing your concerns. I hope this information is helpful.

Sincerely,

Danielle Monroe
Ministerial Assistant

I contacted Mr. Hussain and had a short conversation with him in which he told me that there is no issue with the lighting and that the lighting that is being implemented is well within the guidelines of Alberta Transportation. He also advised me that there will be no impact to the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area or the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory due to the lighting being implemented.

I started asking questions and was advised that I needed to submit my questions in writing and he would have the appropriate people respond to me in a short term and also set up a meeting with me and the impacted parties to address any issues in person.

My question submissions:

It is great that the Alberta Government is concerned about wildlife and habitat protection “during construction”, but what about the long-term implications after construction is completed?

Exactly what lighting is going to be implemented on the Ring Road and the roads providing access to the Ring Road?
(Model of lights, reflectors and LEDs?)

There are many recent engineering studies out that show LED lighting is actually producing more light pollution than less, going against what was forecast. There are many new technologies available now than what there was even 5 years ago that studies show lower the light pollution effectively.

Why is the Alberta Government holding on to old and outdated lighting technology?

Why is the Alberta Government unwilling to attempt to achieve the best possible lighting for this already protected area?

Why is the Government of Alberta unwilling to commit to inclusion of flexibility to ensure the area is protected as new lighting technology which is safer for both human and animal health?

Why is the Alberta Government not willing to look at dimmable lighting technology (which has been found to be a cost savings that recoups on implementation) and much “cooler” (lower than 2200 Kelvin) lighting?

It has been suggested that part of the limitations of the Alberta Government changing the methods of lighting is due to a long-term contract in play where the light fixture purchases have been compiled with a value add of poles and mounting equipment.

Is such a contract in play?

If it is in play, when is the end of this contract?

Will you provide us with a copy of the contract so we do not have to make an application under Freedom Of Information?

It is funny that the Alberta Government is saying that “it is unlikely” to impact to the AASCA and the ROA when both groups are saying that the existing lighting is already harmful and that the Ring Road will increase that impact.

Who is the public supposed to believe, Alberta Transportation who has a history of pushing through projects in spite of opposition and concerns or educational facilities that are dependent on the area not being impacted?

With the statement being that any impact is “unlikely”, will the Alberta Government be willing to change the lighting if there is an impact on either location?

Are there going to be long term protections put in place for any future developments that would impact the AASCA and the RAO?

As the RAO and AASCA are educational facilities that can be impacted in the ability of being able to educate after the lighting is implemented which can have a direct impact on the financial abilities of the organizations, are financial recoveries available for issues of both locations in the event that there are problems due to the lighting?

Seeing as both the RAO and the AASCA are educational facilities, will the Alberta Government and Alberta Transportation be compensating tuition for future impact on the ability to educate?

Will the Government of Alberta commit to paying for a third party study of the impacts of the lighting on the CSWRR including how it relates to the AASCA, RAO and the Municipal District of Foothills Number 31?

Will the Alberta Government be further willing to commit to recommendations and resolutions in whole by the third party if suggested?

What of the Municipal District of Foothills Number 31 and the council adoption of the Dark Sky Bylaws, adopted in 2009 and their concerns about the light pollution impact?

Will the Alberta Government be compensating the people of the district for breaking the bylaws and implementing the lighting?

With the lighting there will be other problems like animals being drawn to the roadways which will have an impact on migration of “pest” species as well as potentials of collisions and human / predator encounters.

Will the Alberta Government be picking up the extra expense of mitigating and paying for damages as well as the capture and movement of animals caused by this lighting implementation?

Why was there no real public consultation prior to the construction on the proposed lighting for the area and the people of the City of Calgary?

We currently have over 2500 signatures on a petition for protecting the Dark Sky around Calgary on Change.org. This petition is falling on deaf ears it seems, so what is needed to get through to the Government that this is not what constituents want and get the government to listen?

In my attempts to make contact and garner information, including from the City of Calgary, I was repeatedly sent to Alberta Transportation and Brian Mason in particular with the statements that The Calgary Ring Road is their project and they are the decision makers.

If that is the case, why is Alberta Transportation sending me to someone in the City of Calgary who has no authority or ability to change any of the policy in place?

I look forward to the reply and subsequent meeting.

As of this point I have yet to receive any reply back other than read receipts.

I have been advised that the Alberta Government as a standard practice ignores petitions from Change.org.

The justification is that there is no data to them from Change.org to identify the validity of the submission of support nor the location of where that submission is coming from. As a result, the notifications from Change.org are simply sent to a “spam” box, ignored and deleted.

E-mail submissions from the general public (although unable to be tracked from our side to show numbers of participants) are read and replied to at some point. Over that the individual e-mail addresses are unable to be put into a spam filter to just be ignored.

As a result I am requesting everyone copy and paste (edit as you see fit or even create your own) an e-mail petition submission to the Alberta Government.

Address the e-mails to
Shannon Philips,  Minister of Environment – eap.minister@gov.ab.ca
Brian Mason, Transportation Minister – transportation.minister.gov.ab.ca

Dear Minister Shannon Philips and Minister Brian Mason,

I am asking that you reconsider the street lighting plans on the Calgary Southwest Ring Road (which wasn’t chosen using the best possible science or most recent internationally recognized protocols and will cause the dramatic loss of the night sky and consequent harm to wildlife and an inability to observe the stars) for a better option suggested by the Illuminating Engineering Society, the International Dark Sky Association and the Intelligent Road and Street Lighting in Europe research paper.

I understand that the intended lighting is somewhat better than the standard guidelines to lighting for Alberta Transportation in that does lower some of the light pollution compared to past lighting solutions by using a moderately lower temperature LED and they also minimize blue light, but they still fall well short of best practices.

The lighting being implemented will have a dramatic effect on the area that needs to be protected.

The proposed lighting is not making the roads safer. It has long been known that non-directional lighting causes spillage and glare for the users of the roadway. This glare has a significant impact on drivers by making eyes feel more strained and causing mental and physical fatigue. This fatigue creates a breakdown in the reaction time of drivers and thereby creates a more dangerous roadway than a roadway that is unlit.

The lighting choice is not cheaper to implement or maintain than the suggested options for the highway. In fact, the poor choice comes at a higher cost has and has long-term ramifications for all citizens that the Alberta Government seems to be ignoring.

The suggested lighting by the Alberta Government goes against the Municipal District of Foothills Number 31 Council adoption of the Dark Sky Bylaws adopted in 2009. (Although the Alberta Government can supersede bylaws imposed by the Municipal District it is outlandish that the implementation of the proposed lighting would go against the community adopted ordinance on light pollution without at least a full public consultation and vote on the issue.)

There are also two established non-profits that will be highly impacted by the choices made. The Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area and the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, located on the outskirts of Calgary on Highway 22X are both currently in a designated Dark Sky location, and are both a part of the International Dark Sky Association. These Dark Sky designations at both non-profit organizations are currently under threat from the poor lighting choice suggested by Alberta Transportation and the Alberta Government and seem to be without protection from the Minister of Environment.

Without the dark sky, the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory will lose the ability to discern objects in the night sky, impacting the educational facility and rendering down its abilities and the financial investments made in it over the years.

The Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area is one of only five Habitat Conservation Areas designated under Alberta’s Wildlife Act, one of five Dark Sky Preserves and the first to be designated as a Nocturnal Preserve. This Nocturnal Preserve designation is one of only two in Canada and the only one in Alberta.

It needs to be understood that this is not an Alberta Transportation only issue and it is time for the Environment Minister to step in and voice a public opinion on the subject. The protection of the conservation area and the Dark Sky should fall well within the mandate and jurisdiction of the Environment Ministers agenda and that needs to have precedence, with sober thought over status quo Alberta Transportation lighting implementation.

It should be noted that much work and financial investment has been made to establish the Nocturnal Preserve and Dark Sky designation at both locations and the Dark Sky designation may be lost for both areas if the planned lighting for the Calgary Southwest Ring Road goes ahead without modification.

Having the Alberta Government, the Ministers of Environment and Alberta Transportation being a cause of educational facilities and the conservation preserves losing their effectiveness after all of the investments made over the years when it could be avoided for a cheaper and better choice seems highly counter-intuitive and wasteful.

The governing decision-makers have the not only the opportunity, but the responsibility to be leaders in conservation of the night sky, offering a better and safer roadway and communities, ensuring natural habitat for wildlife and saving money with a rework of the lighting suggested for the Southwest Ring Road.

Is the lighting to be a boondoggle to be leverage from in years to come when the lighting is re-implemented for the cheaper, better and more logical solution that is available now, or is it to be leveraged from now as a cost savings that protects wild life, public health, dark sky, safer highways, conservation areas, educational infrastructure and citizens while living up to the campaigned Alberta NDP Governments values?

Please make the right decision and rethink the proposed lighting on the Calgary South West Ring Road and protect our Dark Sky.

Sincerely,

I have hopes that individual e-mails sent on the subject will have an impact on the Alberta Government and stimulate change for the better for all.

Thank you for your help!