East Lyme hears gripes about neighborhood noise, considers ordinance, fines

East Lyme - The town is considering a noise control ordinance that would fine violators for exceeding specified decibel levels.

The Board of Selectmen did not pass the ordinance at its Jan. 16 meeting, but will continue to keep the issue on the agenda for its next meeting on Feb. 6. The selectmen will also discuss the cost of training and sound meter equipment with the resident state trooper.

The board said the town can use state statutes to protect residents from noise disturbances. The state has statutes that prohibit noise disturbances, but some towns have adopted ordinances that outline additional regulations.

Robert Scheel of Upper Walnut Hill Road is urging the selectmen to adopt the ordinance, because activities in his neighborhood are generating "huge amounts of noise" which are "very disruptive to human health and well-being," he said at the meeting. Internet videos show ATVs and motorcycles in his neighborhood "rear wheel spinning," "pulling wheelies" and talking about "pissing off the neighbors," according to Scheel.

He described the ill effects of noise pollution, which trigger a "fight or flight" effect in the human body and contribute to problems from anxiety to hypertension, at last week's board meeting.

Some selectmen supported the ordinance, while others had misgivings and would like to further look into the protection that state statutes provide. In addition, some selectmen said the cost of publishing the notice for the ordinance and public hearing in the newspaper would be an expense of about $7,000, for which the town had not budgeted. The selectmen discussed looking into purchasing the equipment and training needed to further enforce noise violations and possibly passing the ordinance in the future, but not now.

Scheel said that the town already has 22 pages of ordinances to address signage issues, while none to specifically address noise problems.

"You can close your eyes, but you can't close your ears," he said.

Waterford, New London and Old Lyme have adopted noise ordinances, according to the website of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which oversees the ordinances.

The proposed ordinance here would prohibit noise above designated decibel levels that vary slightly for residential and non-residential properties and for daytime and nighttime hours.

It would exclude farming equipment, train horns, school bells and government-mandated warning devices from regulation. Daytime construction, snow removal equipment and sounds arising from emergency situations would also be exempt.

Recreational vehicles, including ATV's, snowmobiles, campers and go-carts, off public right-of-ways would be prohibited to exceed the specified sound limits. The ordinance would exempt motor boats and aircraft.

Police will continue to enforce state statutes pertaining to noise, said Sgt. Wilfred Blanchette, the resident state trooper. The town and police remain dedicated to enforcing laws that ensure a good quality of life for residents, he said.

Town police occasionally receive reports of noise disturbances, generally from occasions such as loud parties or nighttime construction projects on the train tracks, according to Blanchette. Other types of noise complaints arise infrequently and are usually over by the time police respond, which can make enforcement difficult, he explained.

"The relative infrequency of the calls certainly doesn't minimize the impact that the noise may create for the person complaining about it," Blanchette wrote in an email. "First Selectman (Paul) Formica and the Police Department have worked very hard to respond to the needs of the people in this regard and we will continue to do so utilizing existing statutes."

k.drelich@theday.com

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