/ Modified mar 4, 2016 9:54 a.m.

Bill Would Loosen Restrictions on Electronic Billboards

Astronomers worried that it will lead to incremental loss of dark skies.

Light Pollution Picacho Peak SPOT A time lapse photograph of light pollution from Tucson reaching the Picacho Peak night sky.
By Melissa Sevigny, Arizona Science Desk

The Arizona Legislature is considering a proposal to extend the region where electronic billboards are allowed along highways and interstates.

Dark-sky advocates say that would harm Arizona’s astronomy industry. A 2012 compromise between astronomers and advertisers banned bright digital billboards in most of Arizona. The measure was designed to prevent light pollution near observatories.

The new bill would lift the ban in most of Mohave County and part of La Paz County.

Timothy La Sota, spokesperson for Lamar Advertising, said it’s matter of fairness for cities.

"If they want to choose to engage in a revenue-generating endeavor, they should have the same ability to do that as other cities and towns in Arizona do that are in a similar situation, and that is that they’re not anywhere near an observatory," La Sota said.

Jeffrey Hall directs Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. He acknowledged the proposed area is far from major observatories, but he says the bill reneges on the 2012 compromise and could have long-term effects.

"The signal that that sends is that Arizona is willing to, bit by bit, chip away at the dark sky protection that keeps the astronomy industry viable," Hall said.

Arizona has the largest grouping of designated dark-sky cities in the world. Hall said astronomy is a billion-dollar industry for the state.

The Arizona Science Desk is a collaboration of public broadcasting entities in the state, including Arizona Public Media.

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