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Some Worry Proposed Billboard Law Would Hurt Arizona's Astronomy Industry

billboard at night
(Photo by graphicstock.com)
Bright digital billboards are banned in most of Arizona, except for the Phoenix area and west of Phoenix along Interstate 10 and Interstate 8.

The state Legislature is considering a proposal to extend the region in Arizona where electronic billboards are allowed along highways and interstates. Dark-sky advocates say that would harm Arizona’s astronomy industry.

Bright digital billboards are banned in most of Arizona, except for the Phoenix area and west of Phoenix along Interstate 10 and Interstate 8. That’s the result of a 2012 compromise between astronomers and advertisers 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,” he said.

Jeffrey Hall, director of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, acknowledges the proposed area is far from major observatories. But he said the bill reneges on the 2012 compromise and could have long-term effects.  

“The signal that sends is that Arizona is willing to, bit by bit, chip away at the dark-sky protection that keeps the astronomy industry viable,” he 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. 

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Melissa grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Arizona and an M.FA. in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University.