County says no to dark skies funding

Cesar Blanco

Dark skies funding became the focal point of the Brewster County Commissioners Court meeting on April 14, and it generated much debate about a proposed new use of hotel/motel tax funds.

The meeting sparked a lengthy discussion regarding House Bill 4305 and Senate Bill 2133 introduced to the 87th Texas Legislature by Rep., Dist. 74, Eddie Morales and Senator, Dist. 29,

César Blanco.

Chloe Crumley of the National Parks Conservation Association, a nationwide advocacy group that works on preserving dark skies around national parks, addressed commissioners. According to Crumley, if the proposed bill were to pass in the Legislature, it would set a 25% limit for HOT revenue that could be used for the promotion and preservation of dark skies through construction and maintenance of infrastructure.

“Dark skies are being threatened with light pollution across the country and here in Texas, and light pollution is increasing across the state and country,” said Crumley.

She said the funds would go directly to the county, not Washington, D.C., or Austin.

Daryl Eby from Terlingua-based Big Bend Vacation Rentals voiced full support, saying, “Our business and our industry cannot continue to thrive if our community suffers, if our infrastructure fails, if our environment degrades, or if our stars at night cease to be big and bright.”

Eby criticized state law that now restricts the use of HOT funds to expenditures directly related to increasing tourism and lodging revenue.

However, Brewster County Tourism Council Executive Director Robert Alvarez argued that dark skies are a secondary, not a primary, reason for tourism. He suggested the topic be brought up in the next legislative session pending more research and data.

South County business owner Bill Ivey argued that the county and city already had ordinances in place to keep the skies dark, and Big Bend Ranch State Park and Big Bend National Park were highly regulated.

Commissioner, Pct. 3 Ruben Ortega and Commissioner, Pct. 1, Jim Westermann both argued in favor of less regulation and control, and opposed the bill. Commissioner, Pct. 2, Sara Allen Colando, a staunch supporter of the bill, said that if the bill were passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, it would go into effect Sept. 21, and if passed by the House and the Senate with a two-thirds majority and signed by the governor, it would go into effect immediately.

County Judge Eleazar Cano was not convinced, and expressed concern that the bill was “politically motivated.” He said there was no light pollution issue in Brewster County, and the problem was limited to other regions.

“I think the money could be better spent,” said Cano. “I don’t think we need an outside advocacy group helping us understand what we need when we live here. There will be no letter sent to Austin.”

Commissioner, Pct. 4, Mike Pallanez, Ortega, and Westermann then voted to deny a letter of support for the dark skies initiative be sent to the Legislature, with only Colando voting in favor.

The next regularly scheduled commissioner’s court meeting is set for Wednesday, April 28 at 9:30 a.m. via Facebook Live.

(1) comment

GFB3

I want to thank Sara Allen Colando for her support of this important initiative. I am very disappointed that it was voted down. I purchased property in south Brewster County for the beautiful, dark, starry skies and the peace and quiet. Period. I am not alone. These are the reasons people visit Big Bend.

By caving in to developers, the county risks losing its most important asset and all the tax dollars associated with it. I hope Judge Cano and the Commisioners who voted against this bill will come to recognise the short-sightedness of their argument and embrace dark skies for the long term benefit of Brewster County.

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