Jul 3, 2002



Thurston County residents who have to raise their voices to be heard over the noise of a neighbor's dirt bike or motorcycle now have recourse.

A county ordinance makes motorized vehicle noise illegal when it reaches 55 decibels on a neighbor's property -- about the same level as a conversation. :blah:

The ordinance is "a small victory" for opponents of ORV noise and an extra burden for ORV riders, who have said the ordinance would outlaw what for some is a competitive career.

"It's a step in the right direction," said Nancy Armstrong, who co-founded a group called the Coalition Against ORV Nuisances.

Armstrong went to court to stop her neighbors from riding on property behind her house. She hired a noise expert who measured decibel levels between 70 and 90 in her home when the neighbor kids were on their bikes.

But sheriff's deputies didn't enforce the noise ordinance on the books; it was too vague, Armstrong said.

"They said if we made changes to make it less vague, they'd be happy to enforce it," said Armstrong, who lives in Tumwater's urban growth area. "I bet they're sorry they said that, because that's what we did."

The old ordinance referred to disruptions of the "peace and repose" of neighbors, but didn't specify what volumes were considered disruptions.

The new ordinance is clear: Anything more than 55 decibels on a neighboring property between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., and anything more than 45 decibels during the night.

The rule applies to motorcycles, dirt bikes and other motorized vehicles, as well as to stereos, musical instruments and generators. The rule applies to noise coming from private property, not from roads.

More than 80 people attended a public hearing about the ordinance in November; many of them ORV riders who said the suggested volume limits were too restrictive. Commissioners passed the ordinance June 6.

"Fifty-five is not a fair number," said Mitch Thaden, a south Thurston County resident who built a track in his back yard where his 11-year-old son practices riding.

The younger Thaden wants to be a competitive ORV racer.

Thaden held a "sound test" on the track so commissioners could hear different ORV noise levels March 30.

"South Sound Honda brought out all their quietest ORVs, and they still broke the law," said Armstrong, who was one of a dozen people at the sound test.

Thaden's son's bike will probably meet the noise limits with some modifications, he said.

The noise expert told him a 6-foot-tall wall of hay bales would cut the noise level on his neighbor's land by up to 10 decibels.

"Based on the test here, I'm going to abandon a third of the track and build a hay wall," Thaden said.

Thaden doesn't think the new rule will have much of an effect on his son's riding, although it could affect people with bigger bikes who ride in numbers.

The new ordinance is less vague, but riders and their opponents agree it still might be hard to enforce.

"Law enforcement doesn't have time for this," Thaden said. "Say somebody rides an hour and then leaves? A non-emergency call can take three hours to get a response."

"It may take some time to educate the sheriff's office that this is an enforceable offense," said Armstrong. "It gives people another piece of traction."

The county is working out a policy for enforcement of the new ordinance, said Susan Bogni, Commissioner Bob Macleod's assistant.

A first offense might not yield a penalty, but after multiple calls, someone from the county will do a test, probably someone from the environmental health department, Bogni said.

A standard penalty for noise offenses is $100, Bogni said; that hasn't changed.

"The adopted ordinance doesn't really change the previous one. It's just more specific, and because of that, it's more enforceable," said Bogni, who drafted the ordinance.

Top Bottom