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It’s lights out for Sheffield: residents approve new light pollution regulations at special town meeting

Josh Landes
Mount Everett Regional School in Sheffield, Massachusetts.

Residents of Sheffield, Massachusetts approved new regulations over artificial light pollution at a special town meeting this week.

At Monday’s meeting at Mount Everett Regional School, select board chairperson Robert Kilmer, Jr. explained the move.

“What we have tried to accomplish here is to come up with a light pollution ordinance that is not overly restrictive and heavily regulating for the people of Sheffield, but does give them an avenue to bring it to the select board, where you have three people that sit on the board, you can present your case, you can have people come and present with you, you can have legal counsel if you'd like- But this will give the town a little bit of regulation without really overregulating every step,” he said.

Select board member Rene Wood said that the new rules would come with new standards for outdoor lighting.

“We'll make them available on town website, a set of acceptable lighting features that do comply to dark sky standards, which means the light is shielded to go downward, not upward and add to artificial light pollution," said Wood. "So, you will have an opportunity to see what those light shields and what those light fixtures look like and work with a building inspector.”

It quickly became clear that the measure was aimed, at least in part, toward a specific resident’s light display: David Rogers-Thieriot, who criticized the plan.

“The provision that specifies that it should not impact the use or enjoyment of another is at best vague, and almost any lighting could be said to affect the use and enjoyment of another," he said. "As some of you may or may not know, I have a brilliant lighting display that many people enjoy in my house. The light easily leaves my property, since my house is near the road, and it could be easily argued by the person across the street or next to me that it's impacting their use and enjoyment. Now, many people enjoy it, and it's a temporary thing. If we're going to restrict it, it should be by hours of operation, and not by the subjective opinion of a random person that may or may not like it.”

However, the most vocal meeting attendees were not fans of Rogers-Thieriot’s light display — and made it clear that they hoped the new regulations would help shut it down.

Julie Osborne is his neighbor.

“We've had to put double blackout curtains in our bedroom and they still creep through the cracks and wake us up," she said. "The dining room is filled with the lights, and hurt our eyes if we happen to look outside. And it's like an invasion is hitting our windows. And they not only cannot say that it's temporary, because they put their lights up a week before Thanksgiving and don't take them down until the middle of March. They also do Halloween lighting, they do Fourth of July lighting, they do track lighting across the ridges of their houses.”

Fellow Sheffieldian Alex Ross agreed with Osbourne.

“It's at least a dozen people who will live on that road or nearby who are affected," he said. "Those lights are so bright, you can see them from miles away. We cannot sleep at night. I have CPTSD. I was suicidal last Christmas because of their lights, and I can bring you medical evidence for this. So for this gentleman to get up and make these completely mendacious comments is just not acceptable. Our life is hell between Thanksgiving and March. It's just unbelievable. You open your windows, you think you're in Las Vegas. If you like Las Vegas so much, move there, but don't make our lives hell.”

Town residents approved the new light pollution regulations by a substantial majority.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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