Hearing on noise law set for March 23
At their Thursday, February 22 meeting, the Morgan County Commission scheduled a public hearing on a possible noise/nuisance ordinance for Friday, March 23 at 2 p.m.
The County Commissioners reviewed two noise/nuisance ordinances from neighboring counties and discussed how to address the issue. They decided to ask the public to evaluate the two ordinances to see whether they could be adapted for use in our county.
Residents from the Spruce Pine Hollow area and other areas of the county had requested that the County Commission look into enacting a noise-nuisance law at their February 9 meeting. Spruce Pine Hollow residents have complained for around five years about excessively loud music played by neighbors for days, constantly barking dogs and noise and dust from dirt bikes and four-wheelers.
The two ordinances under review are a Jefferson County ordinance to abate excessive residential noise that is deemed a public nuisance and a Berkeley County ordinance that designates habitually howling and barking dogs as a public nuisance.
Excessive noise ordinance
The Jefferson County excessive residential noise ordinance defines unlawful noise limits as 65 decibels or more for the audibility of radios, television sets, musical instruments, phonographs, compact disc players and similar devices through the walls of apartment units within the range of the same building, from another property line, or from the street between the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
In the Jefferson County ordinance, parties and social events and the domestic use of power tools and
equipment have the same 65 dB noise level limits for audibility through
apartment building walls within the same building, from another property line, or from the street from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
According to the ordinance, it
would be unlawful to operate
ATVs, motorcycles, snowmobiles, scooters and other motorized vehicles that produce an audible sound of 65 dB from the property line of the complainant or the street at any time, day or night.
Violators of the ordinance may be subject to a misdemeanor fine of $50-$300. A second offense could mean a fine of $150-$500.
Exemptions from ordinance
All activities within the bounds of any municipalities would be exempt from the application of the excessive residential noise ordinance.
Exempted activities included emergency or public safety vehicles, public or private emergency repair activities, emergency public or private alarm devices, sporting events, authorized permitted public activities, farm equipment and farm activities, legal use of firearms including hunting and shooting activities, licensed motor vehicles on any roads, highways or private roadways and sounds coming from any place of worship.
A public nuisance means excessive noise that affects no fewer than three households.
Barking dog ordinance
The Berkeley County barking dog ordinance states that keeping or harboring a dog that frequently and habitually howls, barks and yelps, creating unreasonably loud and disturbing noises that disturb the peace and quiet of the neighborhood, is prohibited. Violators could be fined $100 for the first offense and up to $250 for subsequent offenses.
Commissioner Glen Stotler noted that the state had given counties the authority to deal what they deem hazards to public health and safety as well as public nuisances. Stotler thought that the Jefferson County excessive residential noise ordinance didn't address all the issues.
Commissioner Tommy Swaim felt the Jefferson County ordinance was pretty reasonable. He suggested adding the barking dogs ordinance to
it. The commissioners decided to
have each ordinance considered separately.
Swaim was concerned about enforcement of the ordinances, saying that deputies are run ragged now. Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson pointed out that deputies are already responding to noise and nuisance calls.
"It's been discouraging to go on hundreds of calls and have to tell people that we have no noise ordinance," said Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Vince Shambaugh.
"Adoption of an ordinance will stop a lot of them. The rest are going to do it anyway," said Swaim.
Certified measurement device
The Morgan County Commissioners asked Shambaugh to investigate the viability of a certified device that can be used to measure decibel levels of disturbances when they respond to noise complaints. Shambaugh was going to try to borrow one to see how well it worked in the field.
Shambaugh noted that they would have to have deputies certified to run the equipment. Hutchinson suggested that Shambaugh see what kind of training would be required. Stotler wanted to ensure that any equipment that they bought to measure the sound levels in noise complaints would hold up in court.
Common decible levels
A rough estimated sound level of a typical business office is 70 dB, heavy truck traffic-80 dB, a chainsaw-90 dB, a rock concert-120 dB, a jet aircraft at 100 meters-130 dB and a jet engine at 25 meters-140 dB, according to "A Guide to Noise Control in Minnesota" document from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed typical maximum ranges of some common sounds in a graphical chart as around 60-84 dB in-home for a vacuum cleaner, 63-86 dB for a food blender and 65-110 dB for home shop tools, 102-113 dB outdoors for a chainsaw and 80-110 dB for an operator/ passenger on a motorcycle.
Public feedback requested
Letting the public review these neighboring county noise and nuisance ordinances will provide feedback to help give the county direction on how to proceed, said Stotler.
Variations such as different time periods, permitted duration of noise or different dB levels for different times of day could be added to the ordinance to address additional noise and nuisance issues.
The County Commission invited public comment from those present for their discussion. Concerns ranged from enforcement and cost to whether someone's grandson riding an ATV on their own property would be an issue.
Spruce Pine Hollow residents seemed glad to see some action being taken while others had concerns that noise complaints could come to blows or worse between neighbors.
"It's a place to start," said Stotler of everyone taking a look at the two ordinances.
Ordinances available to public
Copies of the potential noise and nuisance ordinances will be available
at the Morgan County Commission office as of March 1. The county
name on each ordinance will be changed to Morgan County. The ordinances will be presented as two separate ordinances for consideration at the public hearing.