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Dark Sky Advocacy Letter re: Tower in the Rangeley Area

· Document

Dear Ms. Bolstridge, [Environmental Specialist III and a member of the Permitting staff] 

I offer the following comments with regard to the proposed 300’ communications tower in Dallas Plantation: 

Dear Members of the Land Use Planning Commission: 

I am a part-time resident in the Rangeley area, and have been for the last 20 years.  I am also President of Southern Maine Astronomers, a non-profit organization that promotes the science of astronomy and advocates for preserving dark skies, not only in southern and coastal Maine but everywhere throughout the state.  I oppose this tower for several reasons. 

Darkness is a natural resource that is vanishing.  The careless spread of stray light into the night sky is not unlike the dumping of effluent into our rivers 50 years ago, where no one paid much attention to the destruction of a public resource.  Today we have learned how darkness is part of the natural rhythm of life, and how its destruction has adverse impacts on all manner of wildlife habitats and life cycles, including human health.  We have also come to realize that dark skies are integral to the quality of place, spurring, in part, eco-tourism to the Rangeley Lakes area.  Any viewer of light pollution maps will see that Maine is about the last location east of the Mississippi that still has dark places and is within a day’s drive of tens of millions of potential tourists who are anxious to experience the outdoors, including seeing a night sky they can no longer see at home.  

The Rangeley Lakes region is one of the darkest areas remaining in the state and efforts are underway to possibly seek designation as a dark sky community by the International Dark Sky Association.  Within the last year Maine has received two IDA designations – an International Dark Sky Sanctuary at the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, and an International Dark Sky Park for the AMC’s 100-mile Wilderness section of the AT.  Maine is being promoted as a dark sky haven, and the Rangeley region could be next among them.  (And just across the border, Mont Megantic has already been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve by IDA.)  However, the insertion of this monstrous flashing  tower in the midst of all the natural beauty of the area would be detrimental and an affront to any such designation.  The Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust has recently published a guide on 12 good stargazing areas in the area, including nearby Quill Hill, and I suspect this tower would be visible from many of them.

The tower itself would not create the kind of light pollution we are generally concerned about.  However, the flashing nature of the strobes – white by day and red by night - would be highly disruptive to visitors seeking to enjoy the nighttime vistas of the region.  If such a tower were to be built you should condition it upon the use of current technology that would only activate the strobes, for a short period of time, when an aircraft was in the vicinity.  This is being considered for the two new electrical transmission towers on either side of Merrymeeting Bay, based on the objections of area residents to the incessant flashing strobes currently in use. 

Finally, I question the need for this tower in the face of what is happening above us.  For better or worse, SpaceX is launching about 100 small Starlink satellites per month, with a goal to launch as many as 40,000 of them, to facilitate internet access and communications worldwide.  While this development is the bane of professional and amateur astronomers alike, if we are going to be faced with it it does suggest that other technologies are fast emerging that may eliminate the need for towers.  I think it is inappropriate and unwise to scar a pristine landscape with this kind of structure when its useful life might indeed be short. 

For all of the foregoing reasons I urge you to reject the application.  Thank you for your consideration. 

Robert A. Burgess