For some, proposed noise ordinance change does not go far enough
CAMDEN — Residents voiced concerns at a public hearing Oct. 4 that a noise ordinance going to the polls Nov. 8 is too lenient.
One proposed change to the noise rules, which are part of the town's police ordinance, is to define "an unreasonably loud sound," as a noise "exceeding 65 decibels." Another change would apply the noise ordinance to the entire town. The current noise ordinance applies only to Camden's downtown. The current ordinance regulates noise from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. The proposed changes do not alter the hours of regulation.
An "unreasonably loud sound" would be defined as a noise exceeding 65 decibels, when measured at the property line, and persisting for five minutes or more. In recent discussions about changing the noise ordinance, 65 decibels was compared to the sound of two people standing 3 feet apart talking in a normal voice, or the sound of a vacuum cleaner operating from 5 feet away. An exception can be made for loud sound production if a permit is obtained for a special event. Sound production refers to radios, receiving sets, musical instruments, and any other devices used for the production or reproduction of sound.
Police Chief Randy Gagne, Dennis McGuirk and Jon Scholz worked on the changes to the existing ordinance. According to Gagne, adding a decibel level provides a tool to police officers who respond to noise complaints.
At the Oct. 4 hearing on the proposed changes, Dick Snyder congratulated the Select Board for the move to set a decibel level to define loud noise, saying his experience is that it "can disrupt your life." Synder said he has called the police about noise problems, and "some police officers found the noise intolerable. Other did not."
However, Snyder does not fully agree with the proposed change. "My wife and I would like to see the level at 55 decibels and the time limit start at 10 p.m."
Tom Laurent of High Street spoke about traffic noise on the street, and how the ordinance is not going to address it. He said he recently measured noise levels of 65 to 80 decibels "all afternoon" from RVs, dump trucks and people with loud mufflers. He said that at the back of his house, the noise of RVs driving by is in excess of 55 decibels.
"A truck makes 28 times the noise of a car. The noise increases exponentially with speed," he said. "The noise on High Street is almost always intolerable," he said.
Dorie Klein pointed out that Camden's many different zones protect the town, and that 16 towns in Maine have noise ordinances with different decibel level limits for industrial, commercial and residential areas. She said 50 decibels is the average limit for night time noise.
"I can't accept the blanket noise ordinance," she said.
Klein indicated that the Planning Board had originally worked on the noise ordinance, and developed different decibel levels for different zones. "As voters, I feel we have the right to see these different levels for ourselves," she said.
McGuirk said that 20 towns in Maine have noise standards, and initially the plan was to develop different noise regulations for different zones in Camden. That plan ran into complications because Camden has small zones that are close together, he said. He indicated that large towns often have "well-defined zones." McGuirk talked about how hundreds of noise measurements were made from from six different sites, and noise levels as high as 80 decibles had been recorded. He said the town's original noise ordinance was passed in 1995, and the proposed change to add the 65 decibel limit is "a great first step."
On Sept. 20, when the Select Board set the date for the public hearing, McGuirk said he had no doubt that Camden's police chief could make the proposed change to the Camden noise ordinance work, but questioned whether the change was too lenient.
When the noise ordinance was discussed Sept. 6 by the Select Board, Town Manager Patricia Finnigan had suggested the changes be used on a trial basis for one year. Select Board member John French supported the trial basis. Select Board member Marc Ratner took the lead in advocating for a permanent noise ordinance to be decided at the polls Nov. 8. Finnigan explained that ballot questions for the Nov. 8 vote were due to go to the printer Sept. 9, and that if the board voted to place the ordinance on the ballot, a public hearing could be held later, when the warrant was approved. French asked what would happen if testimony at the public hearing indicated the proposed changes weren't "ready for prime time." Finnigan had explained the ordinance change would be on the ballot anyway. On Sept. 6, the Select Board voted 4 to 1 to place the ordinance on the Nov. 8 ballot. French said he supported a change to the noise ordinance, but preferred waiting until June for the vote.
On Oct. 4, French said, "If we had chose what we wanted, which was to set this up as a temporary measure, we would have had time to work on it."
Courier Publications reporter Susan Mustapich can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.