Developments threaten dark skies in Henly

As an astrophotographer looking to build a small observatory, Jim Duke chose to move to the Henly area to avoid the rapidly creeping light trespass from Austin.

But light trespass from a recently built concrete batch plant in Blanco County has made Duke’s pursuit more challenging. Now Duke is trying to raise awareness of the trespass of light near Henly.

Duke said the issue began several months ago when he noticed bright lights in the sky while looking up at the stars.

A large professional telescope sits inside a makeshift observatory near Henly. Duke looks to bring awareness to the disappearing dark skies in Henly after experiencing light trespass from a nearby concrete plant. (courtesy photo)

It wasn’t until he drove near Johnson City when he realized the light source was coming from a concrete plant in Blanco County.

Duke was also concerned about the CTX Field of Dreams baseball complex, located south of Henly.

“I don’t know why they would build a ball park that far out,” Duke said. “There’re no hotel rooms or anything out there. What’s the point of building it out there.”

Duke said the light trespass has a “huge” affect on astrophotography, as security lights are in the “spectrum of what you’re imaging at.” While he said photoshop could be used to fix the light issues, it doesn’t eliminate the problem.

In addition, the light has also affected an observatory Duke is attempting to build on his property, which he’s “put a lot of money into.”

Duke believed the plant’s location across the county line prevents it from adhering to any regulation regarding lights. That includes the city of Dripping Springs’ Dark Skies Ordinance that regulates the brightness of lights within the city limits.

Michelle Fischer, Dripping Springs city administrator, said anyone who turns in a development application in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction is requested that they comply with the ordinance.

Cindy Luongo Cassidy, section leader/chapter leader of the International Dark Skies Association Texas section, said she’s aware of light pollution issues in the Henly area.

She said people should have a view of the night sky, not just for the natural darkness, but also for health reasons.

At dusk, the human body begins the production of melatonin, which helps humans, and other animals sleep.

However, when artificial light is introduced around cells, the production of melatonin is reduced, Cassidy said.

In addition, she said researchers are starting to link macular degeneration to the artificial light around us.

“There’s a huge, long list of health issues that are associated with the pervasiveness of artificial light especially in the blue wavelength,” Cassidy said.

She added that any facility can use lighting controls where light is kept on property and light trespass is minimized.

Duke hopes a solution can be reached, for not only himself, but also his neighbors.

“Henly is growing just like Dripping Springs is growing. I don’t think we can slow that down,” Duke said. “But we can at least keep the dark skies.”

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