BPAA Correspondence May 6, 2021
Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District Board
7666 NE High School Road Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
Subject: Battle Point Astronomical Association’s Response to Proposed Soccer Field Lighting at Battle Point Park
About 15 years ago, youth soccer groups proposed the addition of turf fields and field lighting at Battle Point Park, a proposal that Battle Point Astronomical Association (BPAA) and local residents opposed. Field lighting would have negatively impacted the surrounding neighborhood as well as operation of the Edwin E. Ritchie Observatory. A compromise was agreed, in which opposition to the fields was dropped in exchange for a promise never to install field lighting. The Bainbridge Island Football Club (BIFC) is now asking the Park District to join it in reneging on that promise. Current soccer field users are again proposing the addition of lights to the soccer fields because newer lighting technology may potentially limit the amount of light spilled from the fields to the local area. While this may be true, the soccer fields are located a mere 500 feet from the Observatory. The addition of artificial lights to the fields, no matter the style of lighting, will significantly harm the Observatory’s operation. BPAA’s position and concerns regarding the installation and operation of soccer-field lighting are discussed below. Background Battle Point Park is home to the Ritchie Telescope, owned and operated by BPAA. The 27.5-inch reflecting telescope is the largest publicly available telescope in the Pacific Northwest. The mirror blank for the telescope was donated from The Boeing Company. BPAA members devoted more than a year to fabricate the mirror, build the frame for the telescope, and house the telescope in the rotating dome on top of the former U.S. Navy Helix Building. The estimated value of the Ritchie Telescope and improvements to the Helix Building is well in excess of $350,000. The replacement cost would be much greater. Since its completion in 1997 the Ritchie Telescope has been a source of inspiration to thousands of people, adults and children alike, who have been introduced to the moon, planets, galaxies, star clusters, nebulae and comets, and other objects of interest.
The members of BPAA regularly host public star parties at the site where portable telescopes are brought out and made available to the public. The Observatory offers Bainbridge Island students a hands-on opportunity to experience science and augment science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the classroom. There are monthly lectures, school visits, on-site science classes for youngsters, and other activities to acquaint Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District Board Page 2 May 6, 2021 the public with science. BPAA’s web page (https://bpastro.org) has articles and references for BPAA members and the public. A few of our visitors have gone on to careers in astronomy and planetary science and all have been affected by what they have seen and experienced at the Ritchie Observatory. The view of the night sky from the observatory during an impromptu star partly last July is shown to the right. Installation and operation of lights at night would obliterate such a view. The Ritchie Telescope is a unique asset of the Bainbridge Island community. The closest similar publicly available telescope is the 24.5-inch telescope at Goldendale Observatory State Park, about 150 miles southeast of Bainbridge Island. An example of the importance of dark skies over Battle Point Park was last summer’s appearance of Comet NEOWISE. This comet was the brightest one to appear in the northern hemisphere in a quarter century. For anyone who took the time to look, it was an easily visible object with a long tail that was about the same brightness as the North Star and about the size of two full moons. The comet made its best appearance low in the northwest sky, just a little above the visible horizon from the Ritchie Observatory, and was easily seen without the need of a telescope. NEOWISE was a beautiful object and prompted many questions from Island children about what a comet was and why we could see it for only such a short time.
As one might imagine, the answers to those questions could easily prompt more questions about how the solar system formed, what the nature of gravity is, and how we know what we know about such objects. The photo to the left shows a telescope’s view of NEOWISE as an airplane flies past on approach to Seatac Airport. This image is from a telescope set up on one of the portable-telescope mounting pads north of the observatory, and could not have been captured if lights had been active in the soccer fields. Although the comet could be seen from other locations on Bainbridge Island, Kitsap County, and western Washington, Battle Point Park turned out to be an ideal location because of the lack of tall trees and the relative lack of light pollution. Lights on the soccer field would have destroyed the ability to see it from the Observatory. A promise to turn off the lights early would not have helped, because the comet was only visible for an hour after twilight before it sank below the tree line. Opportunities like this will be lost with lights on the soccer fields. Light Pollution The Ritchie Telescope and all the other telescopes that folks use in the park are useless if stray light (light pollution) is present. BPAA has worked with the International Dark Sky Association to describe light pollution and its affects, as shown on BPAA’s web page: https://bpastro.org/lightpollution/. The light from the Suquamish Tribe’s Casino has impacted the view to the northeast, as shown in the photo to the right. Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District Board Page 3 May 6, 2021 It is important to realize how little light ruins one’s night vision and ability to see the stars. Light is scattered by air, dust particles, and water molecules and becomes a bright haze that hides the faint stars. Having any lights nearby destroys the “seeing”—the ability to observe the heavens. The City of Bainbridge Island (COBI) explicitly recognized the problem of light pollution when it adopted a lighting ordinance in January 2003. Note that this ordinance was adopted prior to the early drive to add lights to Battle Point Park. Outdoor lighting is specifically addressed in Bainbridge Island Municipal Code Chapter 18, Section 18.15.040. This regulation states: The purpose of this chapter is to provide regulations that preserve and enhance the view of the dark sky; promote health, safety, security, and productivity; and help protect natural resources. The provisions of this chapter are intended to control glare and light trespass. It is the intent of this chapter to provide standards for appropriate lighting practices and systems that will enable people to see essential detail in order that they may undertake their activities at night, facilitate safety and security of persons and property, and curtail the degradation of the nighttime visual environment. Certain parts of this regulation directly apply to potential impacts to BPAA and must be considered as part of the review of the proposed addition of lights to the Battle Point Park soccer fields or any other future lights at Battle Point Park: Preserve and enhance the view of the dark sky; Help protect natural resources; Control glare and light trespass; Enable people to see essential detail in order that they may undertake their activities at night; and Curtail the degradation of the nighttime visual environment. Bainbridge Island is, thanks to this lighting ordinance, one of the darker urban areas easily accessible by the public in the greater Seattle area. The proposed lighting at Battle Point Park is in contradiction to the spirit of this regulation and is opposed by the Battle Point Astronomical Association and, we believe, by a substantial portion of the abutters to the park.
A letter from the Battle Point Night Skies Alliance (BPNSA) in support of BPAA’s position on maintaining the Battle Point Park’s dark skies has been submitted to Park and Recreation District Board members. The BPNSA letter is from local residents who also feel that sports-field lighting is not in the public interest. Effect on BPAA Investments The BPAA in 2018 and 2019 completed a major upgrade to the Ritchie Telescope as well as significant improvements to the library and foyer of the Helix Building. This was accomplished with a $20,000 grant from COBI in collaboration with Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network (BARN) volunteers who donated hundreds of hours. The telescope is now working better than ever with new computers, controls, and a digital camera that will allow BPAA to live-stream events once broadband internet service is established to the Helix Building. The dome that protects the telescope from the elements has reached its operational life, is worn out, and leaks. BPAA is gearing up to launch a capital campaign to replace the dome with a modern one with a larger diameter to better accommodate BPAA’s public-outreach and science education programs by allowing additional occupants in the dome at one time. The new dome will also facilitate on-line sharing of the telescope resource. Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District Board Page 4 May 6, 2021 If the dark sky is destroyed by field lighting it will become pointless to have made the expensive upgrades already completed and to pursue a new dome and other improvements. Other Issues Addressed in the BPNSA Letter to the Park Board The BPNSA letter raised other concerns regarding installation of lights at Battle Point Park. In addition to the light pollution problem there are issues with increased nighttime traffic on the narrow unlit roads; lack of lighting in the parking areas; crowd noise; increased trash; increased use of bathroom facilities; possible need for path lighting to the bathroom facilities; reduced life of the existing artificial turf due to increased use; and increased electricity costs. BPAA is in agreement with BPNSA that these concerns must be addressed when considering BIFS’s proposal.
Given that the telescope has nowhere to go, it seems reasonable for Bainbridge Island Metro Park and Recreation Board of Commissioners to offer other facilities to the athletes seeking to play in the evenings after dark. We support the athletes but not the lights. Please do not ruin BPAA’s ability to serve its members and the general public by negating the terms of the existing agreement and allowing the installation of lights to the soccer field or any other part of Battle Point Park in the future. Respectfully, The Board of Directors of the Battle Point Astronomical Association: Frank Petrie, President Peter Moseley, Secretary Nels Johansen, Chief Astronomer Denise Hidano, Facilities Stephen Ruhl, Chief Scientist cc: Bainbridge Island City Council Bainbridge Island Review Kitsap Sun