Dark skies as can be seen from Arches National Park during one of the park's dark sky stargazing events. [Moab Sun News file photo]

Carry a flashlight or stay in the dark — dark skies, that is.

That is the thinking behind one Grand County Council member who brought a flashlight to the county’s meeting on April 2 for a discussion on proposed changes to the area’s outdoor lighting and sign illumination standards to protect the area’s dark skies.

The county’s ordinance states externally illuminated commercial signs in the county are permitted if they are designed, directed and shielded “in such a manner that the light source is not visible beyond the property boundaries where the sign is located.”

Outdoor lighting must come into compliance within five years.

The resolution’s key message is written as, “Light only what you need, when and where you need it, at appropriate levels.”

Grand County Council member Greg Halliday said he endorses the county’s lighting resolution because the county doesn’t “need a lot of lights that can be seen from the International Space Station.”

“I have lived without any street lighting, any external lighting, any safety light, any kind of external lighting for 14 years since I’ve been here,” Halliday said. “And I don’t miss it, OK?”

Halliday lives in Castle Valley.

“What I come to conclude is that they do make flashlights,” Halliday said, briefly holding up a pocket-sized flashlight as he spoke, “so when I walk to the (Castle Valley) Town Council … I carry a flashlight because when I walk back it’s in the dark.”

Halliday said he has walked home in the dark without a flashlight.

“… And the only reason I knew I was on the road was because I could hear the asphalt (as he walked), and when I came to my road, which is dirt, I could see it because it was lighter than the asphalt, so I knew where to turn,” Halliday said. “Now that’s dark. The sky was overcast, there was no light, so I carry a flashlight all the time. I have no problem with it.”

Some concerned residents of Grand County offered their comments on the lighting standards, with people expressing both support for stricter lighting regulations and for no regulations that would impede public safety or make it more difficult for people to drive or walk.

‘There’s nothing in this that, in my opinion, would jeopardize the public’s safety,” said Grand County Community and Economic Development Director Zacharia Levine, “and where there’s a specific technical reason to have lighting that exceeds these standards, I think that’s an easy thing to justify.”

One concerned resident asked about the motion-sensor lights on his property and if those would be impacted, but Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan said those motion-sensor lights are exempt.

Grand County Roads Department Supervisor Bill Jackson also addressed the county about public safety, and asked whether street lights and flashing street signs would need to be replaced or modified due to the new ordinance, pointing out that, after talking with residents, the flashing speed limit signs in certain areas seem to be working as intended.

“It doesn’t say those items are exempt in here for safety reasons,” Jackson said.

“The traffic control signals and devices are all exempt,” said Sloan.

“I just wanted to make sure these specific, regulatory signs are exempted,” Jackson said.

“My weigh-in on that is that this would not require for us to replace them. It can be a discussion if we want to, but it wouldn’t be required,” Sloan said.

Levine said most of the changes presented to council on April 2 were to clarify the resolution’s language to clarify and make consistent what is communicated in the resolution.

Levine said legal counsel recommended deleting a section of text for an exemption for compliance by non-conforming lighting.

In a previous version of the ordinance, there were exemptions for people applying for a land-use application or building permit in the county.

“Legal counsel advised to remove that exemption,” Levine said. “I agree with that.”

“Everyone has to come into compliance within five years,” Sloan said. “It’s very typical when you change things that you need to come into compliance now in non-conforming use law. This exemption was providing an exemption mechanism … and then you could add [the exemptions] up cumulatively, and it was a big burden on staff to track it. We all need to come into compliance.”

Sloan clarified that the exemption process for lighting would place an unnecessary and “complicated” burden on the administrative staff to track and document non-conforming lighting.

The new ordinance was also revised to remove a suggestion to conduct two county-wide lighting audits. The county would need to gain permission from land owners to access private properties to inspect lighting for compliance.

“The concern there was that it wasn’t specific enough in terms of what would be required to be included in those audits, and we wouldn’t want any liability or questions around the county’s ability to enforce this code provision,” Levine said.

“And one other comment on the audit,” Sloan said. “It’s organic that we’re going to have to audit in five years. We want to enforce. … We’ll have an audit when we’re ready to.”

“Other than that, I am happy to present this to you,” Levine said. “Staff worked on this for quite some time, we collaborated with multiple partners, subject matter experts, residents, businesses, tourism operators, engaged citizens.”

The resolution passed the council’s vote with member Rory Paxman raising his hand for the only “no” vote. A re-count was taken on the vote as Paxman recused himself and referenced that he works with a business in the county that uses non-conforming outdoor lighting; no other council members or officials disclosed whether they have non-conforming lighting (conflict of interest) in their personal or business lives.

Lighting changes not expected to impact public safety

“What I come to conclude is that they do make flashlights.”