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Small, uniquely historic town of Antelope seeks Dark Sky status to brighten future; 4 streetlights’ removal sparks debate

(Update: Adding video; interviews with mayor, residents critical of move)

ANTELOPE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Long-time Central Oregonians - in fact, folks far and wide - will recall the unique role in a wild chapter of 1980s history played (involuntarily) by the small southern Wasco County town of Antelope, population 37.

But one can only live on history for so long.

The followers of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh tried to take over the town as they set up their grand commune on a nearby ranch. The whole thing drew global headlines and ended badly, with arrests and dissolution.

Antelope City Recorder and Finance Officer Liz Jamison shared with NewsChannel 21 what's been going on, since the city decided to seek Dark Sky status and bring more visitors to the small community. That after NewsChannel 21 was contacted by several very concerned citizens who feel they’ve had no say in the process and now live in the dark - literally.

Our photographer, Tyson Beauchemin, visited Antelope this week and spoke with several concerned residents about the dust-up that could be the biggest debate to arise there since the tumultuous events of the '80s that put them on the global map.

Resident Jeannie Adams said, "What these people are doing today is what the Rajneesh did to Antelope what, 28, 29, 30 years ago?"

But Mayor Sherri Jamison said, "We had to come up with a way to bring some income into Antelope. And I don't want Antelope to be known only as the place where the Rajneeshees were."

Watch Tyson's story here. For background, here's Liz Jamison's statement to us:

"On June 8, 2023, the City of Antelope Council with the help of Oregon Frontier Chamber and Streetview Planning LLC conducted a work session to brainstorm ways the city could implement some initiatives to improve economic sustainability and job creation.

"One component of that planning session held discovered the opportunities Antelope had with becoming a Dark Sky designated Community. With little options available, the City Council chose to pursue what it would take to become Dark Sky-designated.

"In July 2023, Dark Sky representative Michael McKeag who leads the Oregon chapter conducted a site analysis of Antelope and presented to City Council the following month. It was discovered that Antelope was a great fit!

"A sky quality meter was installed the following month, along with other efforts by the Oregon Dark Sky chapter to kickstart the process on the international designation because by no means is it an easy or simple application process. Travel Oregon has also assisted with efforts by providing a technical expert to assist.

"In November 2023, the first SQM (sky quality meter) was read and the data statistics prove that Antelope has incredible Dark Sky. Since November 2023, Michael McKeag with the Oregon Dark Sky Chapter has conducted a lighting inventory assessment and streetlight overview.

"During this process, it was discovered that some streetlights in Antelope were not compliant with the Dark Sky lighting requirements, as they were installed too high on poles, did not provide proper shielding, and the light pollution component was hazardous to the area.

"The City of Antelope had a total of 14 streetlights inventoried during this assessment, and it was the decision by vote by City Council on January 11, 2024 to remove the four streetlights that were causing light pollution. The city retained the remaining 10 streetlights that are along Main Street.

"To improve the lives of residents, while also drawing a positive and sustainable economic development opportunity to the town, Dark Sky is a valid option to pursue. City Council has been working on this endeavor since June 2023, and public meetings have been held monthly open to community members to attend."

After NewsChannel 21 heard from residents who claimed the four streetlights were removed with no notice, we reached out to city officials, Jamison provided the statement, along with a copy of support letters received that will be a component of the city's Dark Sky application.

"There are many benefits to Dark Sky," she wrote. "However unfortunately, with only 37 residents, if one such resident has an issue with one opportunity, it can make a significant impact."

"Please do not allow one complaint to hinder the many months of work. Antelope's effort to become Dark Sky-designated shows effort to protect the local environment, improve human health, and kickstart sustainable economic development opportunities," Jamison concluded.

Article Topic Follows: Government-politics

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Tyson Beauchemin

Tyson Beauchemin is a photojournalist for NewsChannel 21


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