Community Speaks Out on Noise Ordinance

WINNSBORO – The tranquil setting of Lake Wateree may get a lot quieter in the near future as Fairfield County Council’s Public Affairs and Policy Committee took public comment Monday night on proposed revisions to the County’s noise ordinance.

The Committee is considering tacking on measurable decibel (dBA) levels to the existing ordinance, as well as extending the period of time covered under the ordinance to include 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The current ordinance covers the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. time period, but with no dBA levels, Sheriff Will Montgomery said the law was difficult to enforce and convictions were all but impossible.

“The reason for the decibels is for mainly court purposes,” Montgomery told the Committee. “If we don’t have that, we don’t have anything to show the judge that the noise reached this level.”

The ordinance won’t apply to Lake Wateree residents only, but the push to revise the current law began at a Lake Wateree community meeting, Montgomery said. But lake residents on hand Monday night said they were concerned how dBA levels would affect local businesses.

“During the winter months on the lake, if you don’t make some money you’re going to starve to death,” Wateree resident Charles Stogner said. “The only way they make ends meet during that time is to bring in a band or some form of entertainment to attract more customers in.”

The levels listed in the draft ordinance (available on the County’s website, www.fairfieldsc.com) limit decibels in residential areas to 70dBA from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and 65dBA from 10 p.m. to 6 p.m. In non-residential areas, the levels are limited to 75dBA from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and 70dBA from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Stogner told the Committee that everyday noises like a passing car or a running vacuum cleaner can generate around 76dBA, while things common to the lake area like outboard motors and motorcycle engines can crank out between 90 to 100dBA.

“Not only would restaurants and establishments have a problem, I don’t know how we are going to be able to restrict the noise level of an outboard motor to 70 decibels during the daylight hours,” Stogner said.

Clyde McFadden, another lake resident, said the noise ordinance was a waste of the County’s time.

“I don’t know why the County is even working on a noise ordinance,” McFadden said. “Most of the people at Lake Wateree don’t want a noise ordinance. I think Sheriff Montgomery’s department has more important things to do chasing crack heads and stuff up here around Winnsboro than have a policeman leave Winnsboro and go out to the lake and tell somebody to turn their music down or you’re going to get a $100 ticket or 30 days in jail.”

Councilwoman Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6), who chairs the Committee, said loud music was not the main thrust of the revisions. The impetus to strengthen the ordinance came, she said, after an incident in the lake area involving an individual racing a loud ATV and firing a high-powered rifle near a residence. But with the way the revised ordinance is written, McFadden said, music could easily become a target. The solution, McFadden said, was “common sense.”

“On Jan. 1, I was deathly ill and they were shooting fireworks till 1:30 in the morning,” McFadden said. “What did I do? I put some earplugs in. I used common sense. I didn’t call Montgomery and say ‘Hey come arrest these people’.”

But Lynn Bone said sometimes the loud, offensive noises go on non-stop for hours on end.

“You don’t want to have to wear earplugs 12 or 15 hours a day, I don’t think,” she said.

And neither does Robert Christenbery, the originator of the initial complaint.

“I’m a retired jet engine mechanic,” he said. “I wore earplugs for 30 years. I know what’s loud.”

Lake resident Jack Morris said the Sheriff’s need for definitive numbers in order to convict offenders was understandable, but said Council had its work cut out for it in order to strike the right balance.

“I think people want a simple ordinance,” Morris said. “We don’t want a bunch of oversight and police showing up all the time, but at the same time people need some protection from the really unreasonable neighbor who just won’t come around. I challenge anybody to write that.”

Councilman Billy Smith (District 7), who along with District 3 Councilman Walter Larry Stewart filled out the Committee, said it may be possible to include the decibel limits while also leaving some discretion to law enforcement. Smith said the idea came from reviewing Horry County’s ordinance, which gives deputies the discretion over volume intensity, the unusual nature of the noise, its proximity to residential sleeping quarters, the duration of the noise and other factors.

A date for the next Committee meeting has not been set, but Kinley said at that meeting the members would discuss the issue further, taking into consideration the public input received Monday night. The initiating incident also brought to light the fact that the County has no gun control ordinance, which Kinley said may also be on the table in the near future.

 

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