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Residents sound off on track, noise law

January 06, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A proposal to reduce the hours in which a noise ordinance would be enforced drew sharp criticism Thursday from the Berkeley County Commission from a man who accused them of "cronyism."

Gary West, of Hedgesville, W.Va., said reducing the hours in which the proposed noise ordinance is enforced is simply the commissioners' way to keep a motocross racetrack in business.

He called their actions "no less than disgusting" and added moments later, "You should be ashamed of yourselves."

West was speaking to Commissioners Howard Strauss and Ron Collins. Commissioner Steve Teufel did not attend the meeting.

West said the next time commissioners hear from him it will not be during a friendly conversation, but through a court proceeding.

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"I'm accusing you of cronyism at this point in time, take that how you will," West told the commissioners at the end of their meeting, when members of the public are allowed to speak.

The commissioners have been considering adopting a noise ordinance for several years, with draft copies of the proposed law indicating it would be in effect for 24 hours a day.

On Thursday, Strauss suggested the ordinance only be in effect from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. He said restricting it to nighttime hours would, in part, make it easier for police to enforce.

Strauss said he understands complaints about noise emanating from the track, named Tomahawk MX, but said he is concerned it might appear the County Commission is targeting a specific business that could possibly have to close because of the ordinance.

Tomahawk MX opened in the fall of 2002 on more than 100 acres off Tomahawk Run Road outside of Hedgesville.

Jack Zickafoose said he lives three-tenths of a mile from the track.

"You cannot speak when a race is being run a third of a mile away and (with) a mountain in between," Zickafoose told the commissioners.

Races are in the mornings and at night, with a lighting system being installed. Although no races have been held recently, Zickafoose gave the commissioners a video and a CD depicting the noise present at the track.

"I did not alter the sound," he said of the tape and CD. "That'll give you an idea of what we're dealing with."

Ellaree Mason, whose family sold the land to the track owner said that noise generated from the track can be unbearable at times.

"We can't have picnics anymore. We can't go out in the daytime," she said.

Hundreds of cars and trailers come to the track on race weekends, with most bearing out-of-state license plates, Mason said.

The traffic and noise have caused property values around the track to be drastically reduced, she alleged.

A message left at the racetrack was not returned Thursday night.

The speakers addressed concerns that the noise ordinance would enable existing businesses to be "grandfathered in," or not have to comply with the law.

County attorney Norwood Bentley said that is not the case - that no businesses would be "grandfathered in."

Some noises would be exempt, including that caused by farm activities, traffic, trains, planes, lawn and garden equipment, forestry machinery and emergency vehicles.

Noise from sporting events also is exempt, but Bentley said that exemption does not apply to noise caused by racetracks.

The ordinance would prohibit noise levels above 60 decibels for residential areas, 65 decibels by commercial businesses and in offices, and noise levels above 70 decibels produced by industrial companies.

The acceptable levels would be lowered by 5 decibels from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Sixty decibels is equivalent to the sound produced by conversation in a restaurant or background music, while a vacuum cleaner produces noise levels of around 70 decibels.

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