2006-01-26 / Front Page

Council adopts noise ordinance

By Dotti Farrington

Town councilors voted 3-2 to adopt a noise ordinance even if it might cause havoc for Island Rubbish Service, the island’s main contractor for refuse and recycling pickup.

Councilor Barbara Szepatowski told her colleagues that Island Rubbish officials told her that they already have changed their schedule as much as possible because of noise complaints. They are concerned that the new ordinance would be used against them further and could wreak havoc, Szepatowski said. She explained that Island Rubbish is limited in when it can collect rubbish by transfer station hours, as well as its own strategies to avoid school buses and commuter traffic.

Residents in various parts of town complain about collections as early as 3 or 4 a.m., and village residents have complained about collections from businesses at 7 a.m.

Assistant Town Solicitor Carolyn Mannis, who drafted the ordinance, said any changes or exemptions would bring challenges about the Constitutionality of the law. She said that it would be difficult to defend against such challenges, and the town would have to pay all costs of such a challenge if the town lost the case.

Mannis told the councilors that they could suspend or repeal the ordinance if it proved to be unworkable.

The councilors voting for the ordinance said that they did so because some weeks ago Police Chief Thomas Tighe and Lt. William Donovan said the police needed some law, however imperfect, to give them leverage in dealing with noise complaints. They said working without any effective law in recent years has blocked virtually all efforts to curb sources of noise.

Voting to adopt the ordinance were Council President David Long, Vice President Julio DiGiando and Councilman William Kelly. Councilors Szepatowski and Michael Schnack voted against it.

Five residents spoke at the public hearing on the ordinance before the council voted.

Conservation Commission Chairman Christopher Powell said he encouraged the council to adopt the measure because without tools such as an ordinance the police cannot enforce any curtailment of noise.

Island resident Rosemary Woodside challenged the councilors to define decibel levels for lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and the town fire horn. DiGiando said later that without a useful ordinance, the town might have to ban all lawnmowers “and do it all by goat.”

Emmett Turley of Seaside Drive said his hearing is so acute that he can hear fish jumping in the bay. His biggest torment came from workers at Quonset Point machining parts as early at 2 a.m. and the sounds “resonating across the water,” Turley told the council. He said he wished he could get some relief from that problem.

Ellen Winsor of West Reach Drive supported the ordinance. The length of time a noise persists can be abusive, she said.

For some time Steve Mecca of Green Lane has complained about what he considers to be excessively loud band music coming from the Narragansett CafĂ©. Monday night he told the council that four years without a noise law being implemented “can be an eternity” to those affected by uncontrolled noise. However, he said, the “noise friendly version offered by the council allowed decibel levels that are too high and noise measurements that are not inclusive.” The new law “makes legal egregious noise,” he said. “It’s a sad commentary. The council is not interested in fairness,” Mecca added.

Mannis, who identified herself several weeks ago as an American Civil Liberties Union volunteer lawyer, said her current draft of an anti-noise ordinance is the most defensible in terms of being Constitutional, but it is nonetheless not perfect.

The town had a long-standing noise ordinance on its books, but it had been pronounced unenforceable and therefore the same as nonexistent by the current town solicitors.

The new ordinance limits noise by decibel levels measured by a decibel meter specified by the American National Standards Institute. The limits are a maximum of 75 decibels at all times in all areas of town, with the lower limits of 60 decibels between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. in residential and open-space districts and 70 decibels between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. in those districts.

The law will be enforced by local police, not by the zoning and building official as had been done at some times in the past.

Violations of the ordinance will be subject to a written warning on the first offense, a $25 fine for the second offense, and a $100 fine on the third offense and any subsequent offenses.

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