Heber City should stick to its guns on light pollution and deny harmful upward-lighting of new LDS temple | Opinion | Salt Lake City Weekly

Heber City should stick to its guns on light pollution and deny harmful upward-lighting of new LDS temple 

Taking a Gander

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As a child I dreamed of flying and, on a lark, I took my first lesson in 1978.

Anxious for my pilot license, I arranged for lessons every afternoon. I started on a Monday; on Friday, my instructor had me land at the Ogden-Hinckley Airport and directed me to stop in front of the airport's little café.

She—yes, my instructor was a follower of Amelia Earhart—said, "Michael, I want you to do two takeoffs and landings, and then taxi back to meet me." I felt totally unprepared, and I gave her one of those looks—like "You have to be kidding!" She told me, "You're ready, and you'll be fine."

As I taxied away from the terminal, my knees were knocking together in fright—visions of imminent death swirling through my mind. And yet, I somehow survived that first solo flight.

Though it started only as a recreational pursuit, flying almost immediately became a useful tool in my business, allowing me to have same-day appointments in multiple cities, while not being tied to the wasted time of sitting in airports, waiting for scheduled airline flights.

During my many years as a businessman, I personally piloted my company aircraft all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico, accumulating more than 5,000 hours in the "left seat." As an added bonus, I was able to take my family on many of the trips—mixing business with pleasure.

Because "time is money," I didn't have the option of sitting on the ground, waiting for inclement weather to pass. If I had an appointment in a distant city, I would be there—no excuses.

I remember several times when wintertime departure visibility was limited to only the runway centerline ahead, and I descended, many times, from my cruise altitude to situations of minimum-allowable approach and landing visibility.

As an instrument-rated commercial pilot flying complex, multi-engine aircraft in all kinds of weather, I did most of my return flights at night—after my meetings with clients had ended. Flying up to 29,000 feet in pressurized comfort—and often above a thick cloud ceiling—I could identify many of the major populated areas by the glow that showed through. Places like Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Boston, New York City and Seattle emitted an amazing amount of light, sometimes brightly piercing thousands of feet of the clouds below me. It always amazed me, the sheer intensity and power of the light, and I sometimes contemplated the amazing amount of energy that was used in lighting our world.

In many areas, there was no light at all. I'd have a grand view of the stars and moon above. Likewise, I sometimes chose to overnight in the least populated areas, where I was treated to an inspiring, planetarium-quality show. Stanley, Idaho, at the headwaters of the Salmon River, was one of my favorites. The sky there was stunning.

When one considers the impact of mankind on our planet, we have plenty of reason to worry: Our land is covered with garbage; the pollution of our oceans is choking our sea life; space junk and debris are floating, in orbit, through our heavens; water supplies, once pristine and pure, are impacted by industry, making them threats to the health of people and animals; the disaster of mining and drilling have released forever-toxins into the ground, the water and the air.

This out-of-control pollution of our finite resources should be a matter of everyone's concern.

Luckily, the world is becoming acutely aware of all types of pollution and, while it's really been just a drop in the bucket, many governments are taking firm measures to ensure that we, with all our modern technology, don't trash our world for future generations. As science attempts to save our planet, conservation plans are proliferating. One of those is a relatively new effort to protect those areas of our country that enjoy dark skies at night.

In Utah, we're blessed with quite a few designated "dark sky areas." One is right here, in the backyard of the Wasatch Front population. In 2019, Heber City—considered to be a jewel of the "Wasatch Back"—passed an ordinance to control light pollution.

The focus of Heber's laws were the following: 1. Only light the area that needs it; 2. Be no brighter than necessary; 3. Minimize blue light emissions and; 4. Eliminate upward-directed light.

But now, there's a challenge to the standard on "upward-directed light," which is actually the most harmful element and critical for preventing unnecessary atmospheric refraction from destroying the nighttime view. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has decided to build a temple in Heber, and it has succeeded in getting the city to soften its dark-sky standards, allowing some upward-directed lights, but at a reduced intensity.

Obviously, were it not for the fact that the city council is composed almost entirely of Latter-day Saints, such an easy default on new light-pollution rules would not have occurred. For those who aren't part of the faith, the rule variance is a stunning affront to the area's nighttime beauty. There's been plenty of outcry, but the church is prevailing.

It's really sad that a religion's need for bright-light advertising has become more important than protecting our treasured dark-sky resources. The church has shown that an impressive production is far more important than preserving the beauty of the Heber Valley.

It's shameful.

If a religion, expected to honor mankind's custodial responsibility for our world, feels entitled to unnecessarily hurt the environment, there's something terribly wrong. All Utahns should be up in arms about the church's imminent contribution to a community's light pollution, and Heber City needs to stick to its guns on the importance of its continuing dark-sky standards.

Private Eye is off this week. Michael S. Robinson Sr. writes a weekly online column for City Weekly called Taking a Gander. Send feedback to comments@cityweekly.net

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