Moffat County commissioners shed light on Dinosaur National Monument’s Dark Sky project
Commissioners in Moffat County are feeling left out.
About a week after Dinosaur National Monument announced it received a special designation from the International Dark Sky Association recognizing the skies above Dinosaur for low light pollution ideal for stargazing and the community for actively protecting their dark skies for future visitors, Moffat County’s Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a letter to new Park Superintendent Paul Scolari wanting to know why commissioners were never consulted about the park’s plans.
“Your press release states there is ‘robust community support’ and claims that you will ‘continue to work with surrounding communities’ protecting dark skies,” the commissioners’ letter reads. “Ironically, neither Moffat County nor the Dinosaur Town Council were aware there was a dark sky initiative occurring at Dinosaur National Monument until your press release was public.”
In their letter, commissioners say they are skeptical the monument’s new designation will affect land use decisions inside or outside the monument’s boundaries, but they nonetheless don’t want any “new restrictions or limitations as the result of the designation.”
Moffat County’s Natural Resource Director Jeff Comstock said Tuesday there are at least two specific areas of operation commissioners are concerned about, especially in regard to “light pollution and light trespassing” onto the monument.
“The reason we care about that and how they care to implement that is we have a county road going right through the monument,” Comstock said Tuesday. “County roads get cars with headlights. We also have a past application — a very recent application — for an oil and gas well to be drilled right on the perimeter of the monument and with drill rigs come a fair amount of lights.”
Dan Johnson, a public information officer with the monument, said he spoke to at least one commissioner this past week.
“There were some questions,” Johnson said. “I don’t remember which county commissioner, but we sort of explained the designation — that it recognizes something unique about the monument, but it doesn’t put any kind of stipulations on anything that happens outside the monument at all.”
Johnson said though he hadn’t seen the commissioner’s letter, he welcomed commissioners’ continued comments and questions, but he admitted the monument did not consult Moffat County or the Dinosaur Town Council.
“We’ll respond to their comments and concerns and we’ve been doing outreach, but most of our outreach has been mostly with our tourism folks and folks that are interested in what we’re doing to attract more people to the area,” Johnson said.
Sonya Popelka, an interpretive operations supervisor and coordinator for the initiative at the monument, said preserving the dark skies above the monument is part of the monument’s mission.
“Preserving natural resources like dark skies is part of the enabling legislation of why Dinosaur National Monument exists and what we’re mandated to protect just by having the designation as a national monument,” Popelka said. “This designation is a nice way to articulate Dinosaur’s commitment to preserving this resource, but it does not require any other commitments from the outside community.”
It seems outside influences could affect the monument’s designation, not the other way around. If county or Dinosaur Town Council officials don’t develop the land surrounding the monument in a responsible manner, it could negatively affect the monument’s new designation.
“The consequence of that is that Dinosaur could lose their dark sky status,” Popelka said.
Commissioner Donald Broom was convinced the designation is another attack on energy interests in Moffat County.
“It’s just another way to stop energy,” Broom said.
Commissioner Don Cook said the designation is tainted with environmental special interests.
“It’s just another encroachment on counties and our way of life by another ultra-environmental group,” Cook said.
Comstock said commissioners are still trying to understand what the designation really means for Moffat County.
“The key to this is to understand whether there will be impacts or not,” Comstock said. “We’re just not sure.”