It was standing room only in the East Bethel City Council chambers April 23 when 50-60 people turned out for public hearing about how, or even if, it should respond to noise complaints.
A backyard dirt bike track prompted a request in October 2013 to amend East Bethel’s traffic and motor vehicles ordinance to address loud dirt bike noise. The following months included research, draft changes, discussions with residents, a special workshop early in 2014 and the no-action public hearing to gather input. All council members had agreed it is a “tough issue.”
Mayor Bob DeRoche explained that the city must defer to state law, which addresses decibel levels but he describes as is practically unenforceable or expensive to enforce. The meter must meet meticulous technical specifications and the measurements can be challenged in court.
Sunset Road resident Becky Knisley explained, “I want it to be known that I’m not against dirt bikes or ATVs or snowmobiles, the issue is the noise.”
She said the potential changes East Bethel’s ordinance do not address noise, which Knisley stated is constant every night and weekend with two or three riders at a time. She said she cannot sit on her deck for a meal or normal conversation and asked how loud somebody can be before they’re violating someone else’s rights. She said the racetrack wasn’t there when she built her house, so she hadn’t knowingly moved next door to one.
Knisley said a cheap smart-phone app measured the noise at 80-90 decibels from 300 feet away. She said if it would help with enforcement, she’d buy an official meter.
Resident Zach Harguth from Sunset Lane said he comes from a motocross background and moved to East Bethel from Ham Lake so he would be able to ride. Harguth said while at first he didn’t realize there were restricted hours, he now conforms to the rules. He said the riding is not constant; it might be two or three nights a week and every other weekend.
Harguth said, “All our bikes we ride can pass sound tests at AMA races.”
The testing had been recently implemented by the American Motorcyclist Association, he said.
Sandy Winegar said she lives close enough to hear the noise; she also used to be a council member and sat on the committee that years ago drafted the restricted-hour rules – now found in the city code under Chapter 70, Article IV. Winegar said the dirt bikes do not run all the time, and she thinks the ‘sound thing’ is inescapable since there is noise anywhere people live, such as lawn mowers and Harleys.
Dan Richardson of Northway Sports said he also sat on the bipartisan, citizen committee and said knows the group worked hard to consider all the angles. He doesn’t want to see tighter restrictions or the previous work wasted.
Jeff Thomas said his chainsaw is probably louder than the bikes, but it is a freedom he works for and values. He said the riders are of good character and should be supported in pursuing a productive hobby, unlike some teenagers doing destructive things.
Thomas declared, “And I think the key word in this whole proceeding would be tolerance.”
Neil Dack said he has three sons who love to ride on hills in their back yard, but he talked with his surrounding neighbors about it soon after arriving from Isanti. He wondered if the two parties have tried to find common ground and thinks that changes or limits might make one person happy but will upset many others.
Shayne Wyatt said he moved from Blaine in order to have the freedom to ride dirt bikes on his property. He said complaint calls had sent a sheriff’s deputy to his house nine times over a period of years, but he was never found in violation of the rules. He said it seemed like a no-win decision since people will continue being offended by things they don’t like. Wyatt said some lawn tractors are louder than a dirt bike and that ultimately, residents either need to deal with their living circumstances or move.
He asked, “Where does it stop?”
Chad Gunderson suggested mediation, using an objective party who would help the two sides work through their anger and reach a solution. He said the city can’t abolish dirt bikes or noise and that nobody should be persecuted for their viewpoint. DeRoche later determined the parties had not considered mediation.
Councilmember Heidi Moegerle asked if some type of landscape buffers could help. Bob Jacobson suggested maybe some kind of muffler or exhaust modification could help reduce the noise level.
Brandon Lund said Oak Grove had dealt with a similar issue by forming a riders’ club of volunteers who communicated with neighbors in problem areas. He said his brother-in-law planted pine trees, which “knocked down the sound levels big time.”
Neighbor Tom Burns said, “I have to live between these two groups of people.”
He said now-lost pine trees had helped buffer the sound and that if they were still there, the noise would probably not be an issue. Burns said he doesn’t want to ruin anyone’s dirt bike riding, but wants the two sides to get together and work something out.
“Everybody has to get along,” Burns said.