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Chief: Tricky to enforce noise ordinances

Experts: Nationwide issue impacts quality of life

Robert Inglis/The Daily Item A truck towing farming equipment makes its way through downtown Mifflinburg on Thursday afternoon.

Enforcement of existing noise ordinances can be difficult, one Valley police chief said.

Proponents of penalties for violations, from loud vehicles to yard equipment need to understand that because something is loud, doesn’t mean it is illegal, Buffalo Valley Regional Police Chief Paul Yost said.

Loud noise from motorcycles and modified vehicles can impact business and the quality of life, especially as the weather gets warmer and more people venture outside. Valley police are aware of the concerns are trying to find a solution.

“It’s a huge issue, but a tough situation to manage,” Lewisburg Mayor Judy Wagner said. “It is a difficult issue. Everybody understands it is difficult and we are trying to deal with it.”

In a place like Lewisburg, where heavily traveled Route 45 goes through the business district, police are being asked to monitor sound as traffic ramps up this spring.

According to Pennsylvania Code, a vehicle “shall be equipped with a muffler or other effective noise-suppressing system in good working order and in constant operation. A muffler or exhaust system may not be equipped with a cutout, bypass or similar device, and a muffler may not show evidence of external repair.” Additionally, “the exhaust system of a vehicle may not be modified in a manner which will amplify or increase noise emitted by the motor of a vehicle above the maximum level permitted.”

Those with non-compliant exhaust systems or modifications are being stopped, Yost said.

“We look and see no pipes, that is a no-brainer, we pull them over,” Yost said. “But we just can’t randomly stop a vehicle or a motorcycle. Once we have probable cause, yes.”

Bob Albin, who owns bed & breakfast Tawsty Flower a block off Market Street, said he is tired of excuses from police.

“The borough isn’t handling it,” he said. “I have been in touch with the police chief, we sat together and had a long talk outside. I give up. The excuses we receive are that ‘we don’t have the equipment, we have to train the officers’...”

Noise a priority

Wagner understands residents’ and business owners’ concerns and said noise remains a priority for borough council.

“It’s a top issue for all of us, including the chief, but it’s not an easy solution,” she said. “More and more people are out and about and it’s loud. Unless (police) are Johnny on the spot, the noise is gone. We really want to deal with it. If we knew how we would.”

To officially charge someone with a violation for noise, law enforcement personnel must use a decibel meter calibrated by the state and officers trained how to properly manage the meter, Yost said.

Yost said the department has purchased a non-certified device recently to conduct some checks downtown.

“What I am hoping to do is a couple of non-official surveys to measure sound levels,” he said. “The problem you run into is that you often see three to four bikes, even 10 at the same time.”

In Mifflinburg, Mayor David Cooney said he and police chief Jeffrey Hackenberg did a similar test. He said they purchased a decibel meter online — one that was not calibrated by state officials — and brought in help.

“We actually called someone with a Harley (motorcycle) and did the test,” Cooney said. “We had it revved up to see how loud it was. We’ve done some readings around town, and along Route 304. We found that there were no violations, all within code.”

Proactive approach

Mike Molesevich, who lives a half-block off Market Street in Lewisburg and is an energy and environmental consultant, said he just wants to see some sort of enforcement in the Valley, not just in Lewisburg.

“The biggest crux is they need to do something and right now they’re not doing anything,” he said. “Just some enforcement, start doing something. Send a signal and if you have to cite someone, let the chips fall. If I don’t know how to do something, I figure it out. If the legislation is too complicated, get the police association or township association or the General Assembly to make it more simple.”

Molesevich points to a program started more than two decades ago in Elkhart, Indiana, as a success story. The city’s Noise Annoys program led to 1,200 violations in one year soon after implementation. The police department previously staffed a full-time officer to drive through the city to enforce the ordinance with stiff fines: $250 for a first violation; the second one, $500; the third, $1,000 and $1,500 for each succeeding violation.

Ted Rueter, director of Noise Free America, called the Elkhart program the “model program.” He said the program is funded by the violators and their fines.

“Most municipalities and police departments do not do much to enforce noise ordinances,” he said. “Police often claim that they have other priorities which prevent them from doing so. I have done four police ride-alongs in Elkhart, I know that most of the time, police officers are patrolling, as opposed to responding to calls. In my view, there is plenty of time for the police to aggressively enforce noise ordinances.”

Yost says it doesn’t make sense for BVRPD to put an officer in a cruiser for part of a shift to monitor the jurisdiction if only one violation occurs during that time frame.

“We are taking a look at everything,” he said. “Take a look at it and do the best we can. It will require a manpower adjustment and we don’t know how many times during a two-hour period someone will violate the ordinance. We have to determine if that is an effective use of our time and resources.”

Change for the minority

Yost, Molesevich and Albin don’t want to paint motorcycles in a bad light, nor overstate the issue. Yost and Albin both ride motorcycles, Albin said for more than 40 years.

“Bike riders, 95 percent of them follow the rules, their pipes are legitimate, working properly and have passed inspection,” Yost said. “We can’t just pull over bikes, just because they are bikes.”

Modified vehicles are the problem, Rueter said.

“Motorcycles are naturally quiet, not noisy,” he said. “A noisy motorcycle is the result of the deliberate actions of an owner to remove or modify the exhaust system for the purpose of making noise. This action is prohibited by the noise statute in all 50 states and by a regulation issued by the U.S. EPA.”

“It’s just a few people who are causing the problems,” Molesevich said. “It shouldn’t be the community and society as a whole to make things soundproof for a few people.”

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