Letter to Editor: Noise annoys

To the Editor:

The recent article in the Mount Desert Islander, as well as the fact that two of the three letters to the editor in that same issue concern noise complaints in other Mount Desert Island towns, have prompted me to write this letter.

I am an abutter to the MDI Lobster property, and reside at 121 Clark Point Road which is across the street. I am writing to express my concerns about excessive noise that continues to be generated from the MDI Lobster property and which constitutes an ongoing annoyance.

This noise is produced at different times of the day and night and is objectionable not only due to its volume, but also because of the intermittence, and low frequency of the sound.

The last point requires additional consideration, as scientific studies have shown that sounds that are of a low frequency (generally in the range of 20-200 Hz) are particularly annoying.

Today, it is known that low-frequency noise has a great annoyance potential, and that some people seem to react adversely even to levels just above their hearing threshold. Factors inherent in most low-frequency noises such as the throbbing characteristics, the intrusion of low frequencies felt when other frequencies in the sound are attenuated and the vibration sensations sometimes felt contribute probably to annoyance.

The risk for adverse effects is of particular concern because of its general presence due to numerous sources, such as an efficient propagation of the noise from the source and poor attenuation efficiency of building structures.

The importance of low frequency noise has been acknowledged in the World Health Organization document on community noise, which states that ‘‘health effects due to low frequency components in noise are estimated to be more severe than for community noise in general’’ and that ‘‘special attention should be given to sources with low frequency components.’’

Compared to high frequencies, low frequencies propagate for long distances. Low frequencies will also pass with little attenuation through walls and windows. At long distances from the source, or indoors, the noise spectrum will be selectively attenuated, resulting in a spectrum dominated by low frequencies.

The majority of case studies on low-frequency noise carried out in general environments (indoor and outdoor residential areas) and work environments report that annoyance occurs even though the A-weighted sound pressure levels (SPLs) are within permitted limits for ordinary noise in the different countries in which the studies were carried out. Furthermore, annoyance has been found to be significantly higher in populations exposed to steady-state low frequency noise as compared to steady-state flat-frequency noise, and the prevalence of annoyance has been found to increase with higher low frequency SPLs. Also, numerous experimental studies have found that the A-weighted SPLs underestimate annoyance caused by low frequency noise.

Symptoms such as lack of concentration, sleepiness, tiredness, irritation, pressure on the eardrums, and pressure in the head, have been found to be related to noise annoyance in experimental and field experimental studies.

I am aware of previous attempts to address this issue through a consent agreement between the Town of Southwest Harbor and MDI Lobster.

However, the noise continues.

I believe that an additional contributing factor that was not addressed by the consent agreement is that large trucks and tractor-trailer combinations are constantly coming to and going from, and also sitting at the property with their engines idling for long periods of time — sometimes in excess of one hour (in violation of Title 38, Section 585-L of Maine Revised Statutes).

This contributes greatly to the intermittent noise problem, as these diesel engines emit low-frequency noise and vibrations that I perceive to be much louder than the generator that was removed in April. The sound is penetrating enough that I can hear it while in the shower in the back of my house, furthest away from the source of the sound, with the water running.

In addition, trucks entering the property must maneuver multiple times in order to back into the driveway, due to the narrowness of Clark Point Road. This causes blockage of the roadway for several minutes, and the trucks have caused significant damage to the neighbor’s lawn and plantings by driving onto their property while maneuvering. While not noise specifically, this behavior contributes to the “nuisance” factor and, just this past week, almost resulted in a collision that was narrowly avoided when the passing vehicle swerved dangerously onto my front lawn. The ensuing confrontation between drivers required police and ambulance to respond, blocking one lane for nearly an hour.

While I support Southwest Harbor’s tradition of mixed-use zoning, I respectfully ask the Board of Selectmen and Town Manager, and as applicable, the Code Enforcement Officer and police, to address the issues raised above as follows:

Re-evaluate the consent agreement and the adequacy of sound buffering at the MDI Lobster property with particular emphasis given to the low-frequency nature of the nuisance sound, in addition to its volume (SPL) and intermittency. Minimize truck idling at all hours, preferably voluntarily, but if necessary by enforcing anti-idling laws in accordance with Title 38, Section 585-L of Maine Revised Statutes. Consider what changes are needed to the Land Use Ordinance to ensure compatibility and harmony of commercial and residential mixed use, in particular relating to minimizing noise that is generated outside of normal business hours.

Peter Homer

Southwest Harbor

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