“We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t…”
Whether or not to include lights on the new Tommy V. baseball field will be decided by the Crested Butte Town Council at the April 20 meeting. After 90 minutes of discussion last Monday night, the council decided to take two weeks and mull over the arguments for and against lights.
As part of the Crested Butte Community School expansion, the school district is building a new baseball field across the road from the current Tommy V. field. When discussions began with the town about a new field, lights were included in an effort to expand playing time. The field will be paid for by the school district and lights are budgeted at $160,000.
But the idea of adding lights to a public facility in Crested Butte is not without controversy.
Crested Butte Parks and Recreation director Jake Jones is an advocate of the lights. “We want to make sure we are looking at all the opportunities the amenity can provide,” he told the council. “I know this issue pushes some hot buttons for the community but we are trying to plan for the future.”
He said the field is meant to be a baseball field but softball games will be played at Tommy V. He expected the lights would be used approximately 115 hours a season and that would provide the opportunity for about 75 more games to be played. There will be a 10 p.m. lighting curfew.
The town is looking at lights utilizing new technology that uses reflectors to focus just on the field. It would be nothing like the lights at the ice rink, the rec staff promised. Jones also said the town was looking at utilizing a nearby irrigation ditch to provide hydropower to run the lights.
“Change is difficult,” Jones said. “The field will be oriented to minimize the noise and lights. It won’t be invisible, but my guess is that in five or ten years, we won’t be able to imagine the field without lights.”
Some of the neighbors hope they never have to imagine that scenario at all. “I understand why the rec department wants to light the field but I just think to spend that amount of money on lights is ridiculous,” said neighbor Annie Tunkey. “We do live in a unique small town but putting public amenities in residential areas comes with big impacts. I like softball but I don’t want games going on until 10 o’clock in my backyard.”
Tunkey, whose husband is a partner in the Gas Café, said the town should protect the night sky, and adding lights works against that goal. “People come here to get away from it all,” she said. “They like looking at the stars.”
Sarah Fuld lives on the other side of town from proposed field. “I live near the Gas Café and I love the Gas Café and consider it an amenity to my neighborhood,” she said. “But the Gas Café has lights on 24-7. I love the Gas Café. And I support lighting the field. Playing under the lights is a unique experience. While this can be considered a suburban amenity in a mountain town, I think it’s important to think about the kids and I see real value in increasing our recreation amenities.”
Shelley Read lives on Ninth Street and said the council could look a bit hypocritical on the “green” end of the political spectrum if they pushed for lighting the field. “There is irony in lighting the field when the council is so strong on things like energy efficiency,” she said. “The council is very green and you can inspire us all with your green leadership and then to go light a ball field… There is irony there. The town even has an ordinance protecting the night sky. I don’t think people in the community will continue to take the council suggestions on green issues if you allow this. We choose to not live in suburbia. The precious night sky is important to us all. I ask that you not be inconsistent as a town council.”
Mike Potoker supported Read’s irony argument. He also seconded suggestions that the current town ball fields could be used during weekends to provide more games instead of relying on night games.
Diana Graves would be one of the closest residents to the new field. “It is more than ironic,” she said. “It is really wrong.”
Gabe Martin is a member of the local softball board. “The board agreed that the lights would be good,” Martin said. “It’s not so much about softball but about Babe Ruth baseball and the kids. When I have kids I hope they’ll be able to play ball in Crested Butte. Another thing to consider is that if we have lights, we can bring in tournaments and bring people to town which would work to help increase sales tax.”
Felicia Hermosillo listened to that argument but disagreed. “Living in Crested Butte comes with a sacrifice. You can’t have it all,” she said. “I have been overwhelmed by how cool the stars are here. While baseball and recreation is a gift, another gift is the beauty of nature.”
Melissa Neuner of the Studio Art School said the field could provide more opportunity than just ball and she supported lighting the field. “I see this is an incredible opportunity for the sixth to twelfth graders in town,” she explained. “The teenagers can have a hard time in this small community and get into trouble. There are other opportunities to use that area for teens in town.”
Dave McGuire has helped coach Babe Ruth baseball for four years. “This field needs to be more like a professional field,” he said. “There is a lot of preparation time for the games and the games can go a long time. I too think the kids would really enjoy playing under the lights. I think the lights add vibrancy to the community. When people talk about light pollution, I would argue that pollution is a waste but these lights constitute an active use. There are a lot of positive aspects to the lighting.”
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Roland Mason grew up playing ball in the ’70s and ’80s in Crested Butte. He went on to play college baseball. “Softball and baseball was huge in town when I was growing up and it is part of the town’s history. It is important to the future of the town. It provides a great opportunity for kids in the community,” he said.
Another guy who played ball as kid in Crested Butte is Michael Villanueva. The field is named in honor of his late brother. “My first choice would be three beautiful fields but right now the fields are at full capacity and the future of Gothic Field and Pitsker Field is unknown. So I’m in favor of the lights,” he said. “Having three games of softball a night instead of two would be good for the community. Right now it gets dark at the end of the season and someone is going to get hurt. Being able to start later also affords some flexibility for people trying to make the 5 o’clock games. The lights could allow the people in our community to continue to ride their bikes, fish and still play softball. Softball is just a fun thing for people and it should be contagious. I don’t want to lose more fields, especially with the growth we are seeing in the community.”
Lauren Alkire, assistant with the town rec department, told the council that as the town grows, there could be two Babe Ruth baseball teams instead of just the one 13- to 15-year-old team. She emphasized that new lighting technology will keep the surrounding area a lot darker than what is seen at the fields in Gunnison or at the Crested Butte Big Mine Ice Rink. “The light pollution impacts are minimal compared to other fields,” she said.
Neil Windsor spoke against the lights. “This town is so incredibly different and that part of town is spectacularly dark,” he said. “It would be like going nuclear. The scale is phenomenal. Don’t make a quick decision.”
The council heeded that advice. Being more than five hours into their regular council meeting, the council members wanted to digest all the arguments and did not want to make a poor decision due to tiredness.
Council member Skip Berkshire told the council that just 7 percent of the entire United States is able to see the Milky Way and Crested Butte is part of that 7 percent. “We also have to be careful of the precedent we set,” he said. “It would be hard to comment on light pollution outside of town if we do it. I am also concerned that it is at the entrance to town. Maybe we should go see a similar field.”
The council will consider taking a field trip or having the manufacturer of the lights come to Crested Butte and give a demonstration of their lights.
Council member Billy Rankin said that while he started out the debate neutral, “I’m now on the side of not supporting lights on the field. All the positives will still be there. There will be ball and fun but just not as long into the day. I agree that you can’t have everything in Crested Butte but we can still have an amazing baseball and softball community without lights.”
Jones reminded the council that the opportunity was here today. “It may be more convenient and needed in five years but the conversation is taking place now. We want the rec department to grow and we want people to enjoy the parks.”
Town manager Susan Parker came down on the side of Jones. “This is a good opportunity and as Melissa Neuner pointed out, it could help things besides just baseball,” she said.
Mayor Alan Bernholtz summed it up. “The council is not in an easy position. I could agree or rebut everything said here tonight. I’m a big ball fan. I’m not sure where I am on the issue. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”
They will see which way they’re damned at the next regular council meeting April 20 when they will make a decision on the issue.