You’d think it’d be easy to maintain your reputation as “big sky country,” but Missoula was struggling, thanks to some overly-ambitious lighting fixtures that were marring the grandeur of their night skies. As a result, this community has recently implemented a dark sky ordinance to put a stop to the growing light pollution problem they’ve been experiencing.

The city cites many hopeful benefits of this new ordinance. Police, for one, are welcoming the change. They maintain that overly-bright lighting can create shadowy areas that make it easy for criminals to hide from them. Over-illumination also makes it unsafe for police, since moving from dark to brightly-lit areas requires a lot of time for their eyes to adjust to the new light levels. Moderately-lit streets that direct light where it’s needed results in safer communities.

The new ordinance requires any commercial or industrial building project to turn in photometric design plans that detail what kinds of lighting they will install. And although the ordinance isn’t retroactive, it will make a big difference.

Some businesses may find this new ruling a bit cumbersome, as it may require them to hire lighting specialists on top of the regular designers they employ. But my thinking is that the expense they incur up-front for lighting design services should be won back in energy savings. I’m not sure about that, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Consumers are also required to use dark sky compliant lighting in their outdoor spaces, although they are not required to submit plans for outdoor renovation projects. On the plus side, if you’ve got a neighbor with too-bright outdoor lights, you can ask them to dim them in order to avoid light pollution in your own yard. If that doesn’t work, there are now systems in place that allow you to file formal complaints which may result in a $50 misdemeanor charge. Hello big dark skies.