Make some noise over noise

Published 9:42 am Monday, January 17, 2011

GATESVILLE – The citizens of Gates County will have their say in a proposed noise ordinance.

A public hearing is scheduled for the Wednesday, Jan. 19 meeting of the Gates County Board of Commissioners. That meeting is set for 7 p.m. in the courtroom of the Gates County Courthouse.

The commissioners have discussed this ordinance on and off for nearly a year. They have been through several revisions and appeared to be ready late last year to approve the document until concerns over the legal end of the issue were expressed by the judges and attorneys handling cases in Gates County. Sheriff Ed Webb also voiced concerns over the cost of sound-measuring equipment.

“We’ve been discussing the tweaking this noise ordinance for the last year or so and it is my proposal that we move forward with this revised ordinance in a public hearing, that would be the next step,” Commissioner Henry Jordan said during the Jan. 5 meeting of the board. “We need to give the public the opportunity to discuss this ordinance. We need to make a decision on this ordinance.”

Jordan continued, “Having said that, at our last discussion we went over the ordinance, entertained some of the Sheriff’s apprehensions and some of the (legal) concerns of our judges and attorneys. The County Manager (Toby Chappell) said that they (judges/attorneys) were not very enthused about this ordinance; they had some concerns about its enforcement. We can appreciate that. The County Manager and I have looked over the ordinance once again and believe we can address those concerns, basically by putting in provisions that will negate their concerns.”

In the most recent review of the ordinance, Jordan said if the county establishes a decibel limit for noise, it can be written that the county will not, at this time, use sound detection equipment, as was previously discussed, to record the level of noise.

“Right now we have an ordinance that is based on sensory perception,” Jordan noted. “Now a complaint comes in about noise and one of our deputies goes out to investigate, he can, using sensory perception, judge if the noise levels are too excessive. The deputy can ask for the noise levels to be lowered or to cease or he can write a citation and the issue ends up in court. Well, when you get to court, it’s still up to the judge.”

Jordan said the 100-decimal noise limit will remain as written in the ordinance, but instead of using a sound-measuring device to check the level, that chore will remain as a sensory judgment by the responding law enforcement officer.

“Sometimes in the future, based on whether or not the OLF (Outlying Landing Field proposed by the Navy, perhaps in the Sandbanks area of Gates County) comes in or if the Sheriff’s department wants to start enforcing through sound-measuring devices, we could authorize that at that time,” Jordan stated. “That would prevent the Sheriff from having to go out right now and invest in sound-measuring equipment.”

Jordan added that having the noise ordinance in place will hopefully steer the Navy’s OLF plans away from Gates County.

“It lets the Navy know that we have a noise ordinance in place in Gates County and it contains decibel levels that they will exceed,” Jordan said.

Commissioner Jordan said he has fielded several calls from county citizens who are in support of a noise ordinance. He said those callers complain about loud mufflers that disrupt their daily lives.

“The biggest concern seems to be the enforceability of such an ordinance,” Commissioner Jack Owens said. “But we cannot slap our (Citizens Against) OLF committee in the face by not taking any action. We need to put something in place that the Navy must deal with if they decide to come here.”

“I want to hear what the public has to say about this,” Commissioner John Hora stated. “What I don’t want to see with this ordinance is that it places a burden on Sheriff Webb and his department. I also agree with the OLF issue; I don’t want to go against that group as this ordinance does partially address their concerns.”

“When we first started hearing about the OLF, we had over 800 people show up for the first meeting and about that many at the meeting we had at the high school; so there is concern across the county about the possibility of the Navy coming here,” noted Commission Vice-Chairman Kenneth Jernigan. “We go outside every day now and don’t hear jets, then all of a sudden if the Navy does come we’ll hear a whole lot of them. I don’t think our citizens want to hear that noise. We need the input of our citizens on this ordinance.”

“I think the time is now to let our citizens have their say on this ordinance,” said Graham Twine, chairman of the board.

Chappell said about 95 percent of the existing proposed noise ordinance will remain as written. He stated that the concerns expressed by the district’s judicial and legal officials will be re-worked in the ordinance and a revised copy will be ready for the commissioners and the public to review at the next scheduled meeting.

Jordan made the motion of holding the public hearing at the Jan. 19 night meeting of the commissioners. The motion was approved without objection.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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