Residents debate New London-Waterford Speedbowl noise

Waterford — Officials on Monday agreed to review the town's 25-year-old noise ordinance after residents debated noise produced at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, with neighbors claiming the race cars' rumbling is a health hazard while Speedbowl supporters argued the complaints are overblown.

Representative Town Meeting Minority Leader Joshua Steele Kelly, G-3rd District, wrote a letter to the RTM in late January calling for potential schedule adjustments at the raceway "to improve human health and welfare."

"Some reports have stated that the Speedbowl operates well into the night and has disturbed normal sleep schedules for developing children and working adults alike," Kelly wrote.

He urged the RTM to review and potentially revise the noise ordinance, arguing an exemption for "mobile sources of noise" shouldn't apply to race cars because they're all contained in one location.

Speedbowl supporters and workers firmly disagreed, arguing managers have undertaken efforts to reduce noise over the years. Changing the ordinance or race schedules, they argued, would impact not only Speedbowl business but revenues for area gas stations, convenience stores and restaurants that serve Speedbowl patrons.

"I-395 is louder than the racetrack," longtime driver and current manager of the facility, George Whitney, told the RTM. "We do have a schedule. We never run past midnight."

In a 14-6 vote, the RTM agreed to send the issue to the Public Health, Recreation and Environment Standing Committee in the coming weeks.

"I think it would be fair, if residents feel it greatly affects their lives, to give them an opportunity to speak, and to hear from both sides," RTM Member Susan Driscoll, D-4th District, said.

Andy Gathy, a lifelong resident of Butlertown Road "exactly next to the Speedbowl," said nationwide debates on the issue often boil down to "annoyed inhabitants versus car enthusiasts."

But he noted the Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration recognize noise pollution as a health hazard.

"You have to close all your windows," Gathy said. "There's no fresh air until the track ends."

Gathy said neighbors' intent was "not to put the Speedbowl out of business," but to come to reasonable solutions and potential schedule shifts.

Jane Potter, who said her father raced for years, argued she spent her "entire life" at the track and it hasn't impacted her hearing in the slightest.

"I can hear all of you just fine," she told the RTM.

Long-time Speedbowl flagman Craig Merriman said he understood some noise concerns, but he noted it was impossible to completely control scheduling, because safety measures hold up races when there are accidents or emergencies.

"If you limit the track, it's a hardship that's dangerous for business," Merriman said. "I don't think this is a good message to send to businesses in town."

Whitney said he had not heard similar concerns in recent years. He added he would try to work with residents when possible.

"I'm not going to be bullheaded about it," he said. "I'll work with them."

RTM Moderator Thomas Dembek, R-4th District, informed the crowd that sending the issue to committee didn't make any changes a done deal. The committee will consult police and fire officials, residents and Speedbowl workers to determine if changes to the noise ordinance are in order, Dembek said.

b.kail@theday.com

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