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Dark sky status sought at Alpena harbor

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena Assistant Engineer and Harbormaster Shannon Smolinski looks at one of the lights at the breakwall near the harbor in Alpena. Many of the lights are damaged, so they will be replaced with ones that are more dim and help the area earn a Dark sky designation.

ALPENA — Next year, a portion of the Alpena harbor could be recognized as a dark sky park.

A dark sky park preserve protects night skies from light pollution, through which city lights can make it hard to see all of the stars and other celestial sights visible elsewhere. Parks usually get set aside for scientific, educational, and enjoyment purposes.

Northeast Michigan has three existing dark sky preserves, at Negwegon State Park in Alcona County, Thompson’s Harbor State Park in Presque Isle County, and at Rockport State Recreation Area north of Alpena.

In Alpena, city officials plan to remove old lighting on the harbor’s breakwall and replace it with smaller, dimmer lights that reduce light pollution in the area.

The city recently received a grant from the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan to pay for a portion of the 18 new lights that could cost as much as $20,000 to $22,000 total. The city will cover the rest of the cost, Assistant Engineer and Harbormaster Shannon Smolinski said.

Other vendors have pitched more proposals and the cost might come down, Smolinski said.

“People like to walk out to the end of the walkway and just look out over the water,” she said. “We are at the edge of the city, so we don’t have to worry about a lot of other lights.”

In order for the Tucson, Arizona-based International Dark Sky Association to declare a dark sky area, the area has to record only a certain limit of lumens, a measurement of light. Smolinski said it is already plenty dark on the breakwall, especially near the end of it, and the amount of light will dip more once the new lights are installed.

“You go with an amber light source that is pointed downward as much as possible, so, when you’re looking up, you’re not being overshadowed or the light isn’t coming down into your face,” she said.

To achieve that, Smolinski said she intends to order bollard lights about 42 to 46 inches in height, meaning a majority of the light projects downward.

“When you’re looking up, you’ll be able to see above the light source,” she said.

Since becoming harbormaster, Smolinski has spearheaded renovation projects and longterm planning to make the harbor more user-friendly and attractive for visitors. Members of the community, local fishermen, and others have offered numerous ideas, she said.

Smolinski said she hopes to have the light ordered and installed before the end of the city’s current budget year, which ends on June 30.

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