Noise ordinance approved

Published 10:30 am Monday, January 24, 2011

GATESVILLE – After 12 months of tweaking, Gates County is now the proud new owner of a more defined noise ordinance.

By a unanimous vote at their January 19 meeting, the Gates County Board of Commissioners adopted the ordinance, only after one final round of slight modifications was placed in the six-age document.

In its early stages, the ordinance was presented to the commissioners by the Citizens Against OLF as they continue their efforts to prevent the Navy from possibly constructing an Outlying Landing Field (practice facility) in the Sandbanks area of Gates County. Duke University researchers joined forces with the anti-OLF group to put the document in writing.

As the debate progressed over the wording of the ordinance, Gates County Sheriff Ed Webb as well as judges and attorneys voiced concerns over enforcement and legal issues.

“We’ve addressed the concerns the Sheriff’s Office and judges had,” Commissioner Henry Jordan said at last week’s meeting.

Section 2 now adds the sentence: Sound measurement standards will be implemented when authorized by the Gates County Board of Commissioners at a later date. There was concern about the cost of the equipment needed to measure sound as well as calibration standards of that equipment, Jordan noted.

“We feel we need these sound measuring standards in place if the OLF does decide to come here at which time we can activate that part of the ordinance,” Jordan said.

The Sheriff’s deputies will use sensory perception to judge noise level, as is currently the case.

“All the changes seem to address the issues that have been brought up previously,” said Commissioner Jack Owens.

“I’m fine with this as it is; I know there has been a lot of work put into this, not only by Duke, but locally as well and I certainly support this,” Commission Vice-Chair Kenneth Jernigan stated.

Commission Chairman Graham Twine thanked Jordan for all the time he invested in getting the ordinance to this point.

The public also had their say last week concerning the ordinance.

Linda Warren, representing the Citizens Against OLF, said Duke University and the Southern Coalition lawyers worked with the local group to come up with the basis for a noise ordinance.

“The OLF is certainly about jet noise; we were guided in this to build an ordinance dealing with noise,” Warren said. “This ordinance will be a stumbling block for the Navy. We think it’s important to get the message across to the Navy that the noise they’re trying to move out of Virginia Beach is not something we want in Gates County.”

Warren added that the Navy had been asked about flight paths, inquiring of the route the jets would take to get to Gates County.

“It’s not just involving the Sandbanks; the flight paths given by the Navy to the FAA (Federal Aviation Commission) has those jets coming from Oceana (Naval Air Station) straight down to Moyock (northern Currituck County) and coming straight across to the Sandbanks,” Warren said. “Those jets will cut across the heart of Gates County; their flight paths can be eight miles wide. That brings those jets across our state park, over our beautiful river; across our schools and across our neighbors and friends…that’s why we need a noise ordinance and thanks to everyone for working so hard on this.”

“I had made some previous comments about the decibel meters and the calibration equipment, however, that’s just a small portion when considering what could happen in the county,” said J.E. Harrell. “When you talk about the noise, it’s huge, but it’s also more far reaching than that. These folks that have their land and their way of life threatened, it speaks for the need for a noise ordinance and anything we can do to stop these jets. My heart goes out to this group.”

Wade Askew, a former county commissioner who was a part of orchestrating the noise ordinance, asked about the language of the document pertaining to agricultural and forestry operations. Twine commented that Section 5 (Exceptions) dealt with that, quoting, “Agricultural and forestry operations and the like shall not constitute a nuisance and thus shall not be subject to the requirements of this ordinance, except when a nuisance results from negligence or improper operation of any agricultural or forestry equipment or its appurtenances.”

Danny Byrum said he had stood in the yard of a man living near Langley (Virginia airfield) and they could not hear each other talk over the sound of jets flying overhead.

“He said you couldn’t even listen to TV in your house when the jets were flying,” Byrum recalled. “It’s quite a big deal. Our way of life will be gone if the jets come here. This whole county will never be the same.”

Joe Greene said while he was living near Oceana his family experienced the sound of jets on a daily and nightly basis.

“It will change your life; they will rattle your house,” he said. “There is no day or night to them.”

Upon exiting the public hearing, County Manager Toby Chappell, citing concerns of county attorney Pitt Godwin, directed the commissioners’ attention to section 7 of the ordinance. The board agreed with Godwin and struck a portion of subsection C of that section…“Officer provides intermediate noise protection/abatement when necessary and intermediate inclusiveness/identification of the types of prohibited noises observed.”

Commissioner John Hora asked Sheriff Webb if he was in agreement with the provisions of the ordinance since Webb and his staff would be responsible for enforcement.

“The main thing is officer perception,” Webb said. “If we get a call about a loud muffler or a loud radio we can issue a citation. We usually try to issue a warning the first time and move up from there in citations, especially when you keep going back to the same person (making the noise).”

The ordinance provides for a fine of not more than $50 or imprisonment of not more than 30 days should any person violating any of the provisions of the ordinance be found guilty of a misdemeanor. Additionally, the county, as a first remedy, can issue a civil fine of $50 for a noise nuisance violation.

Upon a motion by Jordan and a second from Jernigan, the commissioners approved the ordinance as modified with the noted changes.

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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