Committee to vet noise ordinance

A public nuisance law centering on loud and repetitive noise, which was rejected by the public a month ago, will be discussed at a Clallam County Sheriff's Citizens Advisory Committee meeting on Aug. 27.

Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said he heard loud and clear that the first draft of the ordinance needed work and he plans on taking the proposed law and the public's comments from a July 15 public hearing to the committee for review.

"We're going to look at what went wrong and what sent the wrong message to the public," Benedict said. "I understand the reaction and I want to make sure people know this isn't a ploy to have unsubstantiated enforcement or to have a police state, but rather a tool to deal with delicate neighborhood disputes."

Benedict and his staff created the draft law by piecing together parts of noise ordinances from other counties. He said the ordinance is working in other areas, but indicated Clallam County will need a refined draft more sensitive to its rural nature.

Benedict formed the advisory committee within a year after his election to help him have a link between his office and the public while working through topics such as the noise ordinance.

"I think the committee will bring forward some good ideas regarding the ordinance so that we can make it something people will want to have rather than something they will find conflict with," Benedict said. "We were hoping to ease conflict with the ordinance, so we will continue that spirit as we refine the law."

The public meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Aug. 27 in the Clallam County Emergency Operations Center in the basement of the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles.

The draft law would have regulated "frequent, repetitive or continuous noise" originating from a variety of sources that "unreasonably disturbs the comfort, peace or repose of another person."

The county's existing noise ordinance deals mainly with loud music and Benedict said the new law needed to be more explicit for his deputies to have a tool to use in neighborhood disputes centered on noise.

"There were pressures in different neighborhoods around the county and for the most part deputies were able to resolve them as delegates of peace," Benedict said after the first public meeting. "But if we are being ignored and people are running chain saws at 4 a.m. or a backyard motorcycle track through the night without regard to their neighbors, we need something to take back to show them there needs to be compromise and we don't have that right now."

The public had a different opinion of the law, stating it was overreaching, subjective and far too vague. The ordinance relies on deputies' judgment of the situation and was construed by the public to restrict fun, rather than rein in noisy neighbors.

Benedict said he wasn't sure what changes would happen to the ordinance, suggesting that the committee would discuss compromises between the county's need for a tool and the public's concern with overregulation.

"I still haven't ruled out decibel readers, although I think the process can become pricey with buying devices and training deputies," he said. "Also, we may find that nothing is broken with the system we have and that we only need to make a few modifications to the existing code. These are things the committee will discuss, I'm sure."

Benedict said the process is likely to take some time because he wants to make sure the county has a noise ordinance that suits its citizens.

"I would be surprised if this was finalized before 2009," he said. "This isn't Bill Benedict's law, it's the law of the county and the county commissioners and it's my job to enforce it and make sure we all get along and live with each other in this great place."

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