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Eyeing ‘dark sky’ spend

Masterton submitters have given dark sky spending a tentative tick.

Masterton is debating whether to join the Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve, which could require investment in the annual council budget.

Annual plan submission hearings began on May 17.

With 12,0000 ratepayers in the district, Masterton is proposing allocating $20,000 from a tourism fund to put toward the dark sky accreditation.

There were 203 Annual Plan submissions at the Masterton District Council hearings, some of which did not respond to the dark sky question. However, of all the submissions made to the council, close to three-quarters supported the idea of joining Carterton and South Wairarapa in the reserve.

The council will decide whether to undertake the work when it deliberates the Annual Plan on June 7.

Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve trust chair Viv Napier said the accreditation would be a long and involved process, given South Wairarapa and Carterton’s accreditation took five years.

She said it would require a lighting plan and inventory, dark sky measurements and photos, new equipment, reduction of artificial light levels, modification of light types, and shields.

A written draft application would then be sent to the International Dark-Sky Association, which could be revised several times.

Till the dawn breaks a timelapse of the lunar eclipse by Glen Butler at Rangiwhakaoma Castlepoint.

Napier said billions of people worldwide are unable to see the Milky Way due to light pollution and she hopes Masterton wants to protect its skies.

The former South Wairarapa mayor’s soft-spot for stars is the result of her kids’ involvement in a two-week exchange programme between Tokyo and Kuranui School.

Napier billeted a Japanese student, who upon arrival in Wairarapa on a clear dark night, burst into tears.

“She said, ‘Are those stars?’ She had never seen stars before,” Napier said.

The committee’s job is to retain, maintain, and educate people to buy into the dark sky reserve, and they are required to fill out “extensive tick-boxes” and paperwork annually.

Masterton council senior advisor Matthew Steele said if there is no community buy-in, it wouldn’t be the end of their interaction.

“As the biggest town, Masterton could leverage off other opportunities,” Steele said, an adviser on economic development.

The council will look to launch pilot projects and include Masterton, Riversdale, Mataikona, and Castlepoint.

“I don’t expect a massive imposition,” Steele said.

The council is reviewing the districts’ combined lighting plans for its amendment.

Steele said relationships with local iwi Ngāti Kahungunu and Rangitāne, as well as Destination Wairarapa, would be important.

Destination Wairarapa general manager Anna Neilson said the organisation already markets the dark sky reserve on a regional basis.

She said after a short drive from the Wellington airport, people can come and drink in the region’s vineyards and after-hours gaze at the night sky.

“We want to create our own unique experience,” Neilson said.

A pre-covid independent report showed within 10 years the dark sky reserve could bring an additional $190 million in tourist dollars, 115 jobs, support existing businesses, and generate 280,000 guests.

It said South Island’s Aoraki-Mackenzie reserve has around two million visitors a year, 4 per cent of whom are drawn by the stars.

The Annual Plan will be adopted by the Masterton District Council on June 28.

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