Dirt bike noise complaints prompt hearing in East Bethel

The East Bethel City Council talked about dirt bike noise in a March 19 workshop, ultimately deciding to hold a public hearing 7 p.m. April 23 at City Hall before making decisions or taking actions. The members acknowledged the meeting might be packed or could be pointless, but they at least needed to try to get residents’ input.

A citizen, bothered by noise from a “racetrack” in a residential backyard, asked in September for the city to do something – perhaps amend the noise ordinance to include dirt bikes or prohibit racetracks in backyards. In addition to those ideas, the council also talked about the possibility of limiting ride hours.

The council has since researched local, county and state noise laws; land-use and zoning regulations; Department of Natural Resources rules for recreational vehicles, including hours; density of the residential area; and distance of the racetrack from neighbors and the road.

Council members debated whether they should be addressing the noise at all. Mayor Bob DeRoche figured chain saws, lawn mowers, snow blowers and other equipment unintentionally violate noise ordinances every day.

City Administrator Jack Davis confirmed that the 2013 complaint was the fourth about dirt bikes since 2011.

Councilmember Tom Ronning said it isn’t a good idea to change the law for noise someone doesn’t like.

“This is fatally flawed because it’s two neighbors who have a complaint,” he said.

Councilmember Ron Koller said modified exhausts, which are added to create more horsepower, make a louder sound than normal exhaust, but officials check the systems’ decibel levels before races.

Councilmember Heidi Moegerle asked about the residents’ right to enjoy peace and quiet at home, suggesting changes to address concerns without impacting others negatively. To demonstrate the sounds, she played audio of a dirt bike as she spoke.

DeRoche and Ronning doubted the recreational-riding space is indeed a racetrack. The council debated how the word is defined then established that no public or competitive races are held on the “track.” Davis clarified that the residents had used a small earth mover to clear a circular pathway on their property for riding dirt bikes.

The city attorney said he sees the issue as a noise nuisance and not a zoning or land-use issue. Davis said changing the noise ordinance was futile, since enforcement is nearly impossible. Complainants must prove a certain decibel level over a period of time and use a special meter to measure it.

Moegerle said the council should make changes so the complaints won’t happen, while DeRoche and Ronning didn’t see a problem with the current ordinance. Members struggled with how much citywide change to make based on a handful of complaints.

All the members agreed that before proposing or voting on an action, they should gauge public opinion.