Owner of Kirtland: We're no louder than the rest of Boyne City
Kirtland Products owner Tom Monley speaks to the Boyne City Planning Commission Monday. (AEBRA COE/NEWS-REVIEW / December 18, 2012)
After a couple years of complaints from surrounding residents, multiple sound studies and measures already taken by Kirtland to reduce noise, the Boyne City Planning Commission decided to continue to work with the wood pellet manufacturing company in an effort to reduce noise.
The materials proposed for the construction, according to an engineering firm in Waterford, could reduce noise emissions coming from Kirtland even more than would eight-inch-thick concrete walls.
Creating the sound-reducing structures was the first task the planning commission asked of Kirtland in a resolution at its meeting Monday evening, in a 4-2 vote. Commissioners Gretchen Crum and Joe St. Dennis voted against the resolution.
The design plan and construction schedule for the structures to house the machinery should be complete by its next meeting in a month, asserted the commission, or, better yet, construction should have already begun by then.
The second task the planning commission gave to Kirtland was that the company should work with city staff to plan on hiring an engineering firm to develop a "reasonable and fair" standard for octave band scale or C scale sound levels.
The newly developed standard could then be used to amend Kirtland's conditional use permit, which allows them to operate and currently has no sound level specified for compliance.
Kirtland Products owner Tom Monley agreed to continue to work with the planning commission toward a resolution, but said Kirtland does not make Boyne City louder.
"The noises produced by Kirtland are not any louder than the community when we are not running," asserted Monley.
Recently, a sound enforcement official from Traverse City visited Boyne City and gathered noise readings near Kirtland and in the surrounding residential areas. Monley's assertion that sound levels are the same when Kirtland is and is not running was based on readings the official found which showed exactly that.
On both the C scale and A scale frequencies, sound levels in surrounding neighborhoods were very similar, and sometimes exactly the same, when Kirtland was running one day and not running the next. The tests showed the noise levels in the neighborhoods fluctuated independently of Kirtland as well.
Monley presented a report from Great Lakes Energy on how much power the factory used at each of the specified times to offer evidence that the factory was or was not running.
Citizens have attended their meetings for more than a year saying they are disturbed by the noises coming from the factory, said commissioner Gretchen Crum.
"Here we are another month later. This wasn't my expectation," she said of the slow resolution to the discomfort of Boyne City residents.
Kirtland's conditional use permit was revoked by the planning commission in September, but the city has allowed Kirtland to continue to operate three days a week as the two entities work together to resolve the concerns of nearby residents that the factory is too loud.
The two requests of the planning commission at its latest meeting stem from three proposals Kirtland Products officials presented just before the start of the meeting.
Kirtland sought the advice of three engineering firms to come up with the proposals. The company suggested they could work with one of the firms to either develop a C scale noise level standard, develop a more comprehensive octave band scale standard or the third option the company presented was to move directly to action without a standard and construct enclosures around the noisiest equipment at the Kirtland site.
The planning commission decided to ask the company to implement all three proposals, in part.
"We are asked to work toward a goal, but the goal is not defined and that is troubling," said Kirtland CEO Leon Tupper. "It becomes, for us, a possibly no-win situation."
Tupper believes the enclosures could be completed successfully, but the public might still not be satisfied with the results. Then, after a large investment, the factory would be forced to shut down anyway.
"It's a horse and cart issue," said Joe Quandt, attorney for Kirtland.
Enclosing the equipment may bring results more quickly, but to no definitive end, he said, because without a standard in place, it is unknown whether the financial investments in the structure would result in fewer complaints from the public in regards to noise.
"I thought we were coming to this meeting to talk about proposals, not put them out of business and send this to a judge," said Quandt after several commissioners expressed their frustration that the desired sound reduction had not yet been reached and suggested a move to court could be one viable option.
"I don't think a judge would side with the planning commission," because there is little objective criteria currently attached to the permit, he said.
If the matter were to be taken up in court, said James Murray, attorney for Boyne City, a judge would likely either order Kirtland to enclose all equipment producing sound louder than 40 decibels, or not force Kirtland to do anything.
"That's the heart of the debate," said Murray. "It may still not solve the problems."
If it heads to court, "It's out of your hands," he told the commissioners.
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