Hillsborough noise pollution ordinance revised listen09/18/08 Seán Kinane
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The Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) of Hillsborough County today revised its noise pollution ordinance. Some county residents worry that despite the changes, frequent violators like the Ford Amphitheatre will still create disturances.
Until Thursday, it was a violation of the county’s noise ordinance to exceed certain decibel limits, even for a split second. The main revision averages the sound over a 10-minute period to determine whether a violation has occurred.
John McDonald served as an acoustic consultant for the EPC. McDonald said measuring sound at a point in time (Lmax) is not as reliable a measure of "community annoyance" as an average over time (Leq).
“That’s the nature of Leq, is it allows normal sounds, it allows when sound levels drop down to background conditions. It takes that into account. Whereas an Lmax, there is no allowance for what we would call normal sound levels in your environment. If you exceed that Lmax, you’re in violation. It doesn’t matter if that happens once in a minute or once in a number of hours, you’re in violation. So if you’re going to have an Lmax, you need to have that level much higher than what EPC has.”
McDonald, who was paid $15,000 by the EPC for consulting on the noise ordinance changes, said in 1973 the EPA concluded that there are three main components that should be considered regarding noise – how loud it is measured in decibels, its frequency or pitch measured in Hertz and its duration.
The revisions take the lower bass frequencies into account. The decibel limits for each frequency are based on McDonald’s research on when people complain about noise, according to Jerry Campbell, the director of the EPC’s air management division.
The overall decibel level allowed to affect residential areas was not changed. It remains at 60 decibels until 10 p.m and 55 decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., but is based on a 10-minute average. Seven people spoke during public comment. One person was in favor of the proposed changes, five were against, and one, Joe Gross, did not give an opinion.
Gross, who works with code enforcement for the city of Temple Terrace, said this summer his office has been getting many complaints about concert noise from the amphitheater.
The only person to speak in favor of the changes to the noise ordinance was Joanne O’Brien. She lives in the East Lake Park subdivision and used to be affected by noise from amphitheater concerts when it opened in 2004. But following many noise complaints by citizens and a county lawsuit, a noise-absorbing wall was built in 2007.
Chris Clifton lives in Temple Terrace and said he has spent $9,000 on new windows because the old ones would shake during concerts at the amphitheater. Like others who spoke, he took exception to changing from an instantaneous decibel measurement to a 10-minute average measurement.
But McDonald said the concerns of Clifton and others that the 10-minute period is too long to catch noise violators are unfounded because decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, not a linear scale.
McDonald said that there are noise ordinances in a few cities that use Leq’s as short as one minute but the vast majority of the 130 he reviewed were 10 minutes or longer.
Several residents complained about an amphitheater concert in July by the band Slipknot. WMNF asked the EPC’s Jerry Campbell whether that concert would be considered a noise violation under the new ordinance.
ClearChannel spin-off Live Nation, the company that operates the amphitheater, received a warning notice for the noise violation from that concert, Campbell said.
The St. Petersburg Times reported about an unadvertised meeting on Sept. 8 to discuss noise ordinance changes; it included staff from the EPC, board member Al Higginbotham, and two representatives from Live Nation.
The six EPC board members voted unanimously to approve the changes to the noise pollution ordinance; Kevin White was absent.
Photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF (March, 2008)