By: Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
Boyne City Planning Director Scott McPherson told Boyne City Commissioners that the Boyne City Planning Commission felt that, while the Kirtland noise levels were within the Traverse City noise ordinance ranges of acceptability, those standards did not apply to the circumstance in Boyne City.
Traverse City’s noise ordinance came into play when Boyne City officials requested a Traverse City noise ordinance enforcement officer visit Boyne and perform tests.
“Ultimately the planning commission determined that we need to look back at what was approved for this particular development,” he said. “In their approved site plan they indicated that all equipment over 40 decibels would be located inside the building.”
McPherson added, “That’s not what they did. They put a number of pieces outside the building—seven of those pieces are over a hundred decibels, so they gave Kirtland direction to come up with a plan and bring back a plan on how they could mitigate the noise levels.”
Kirtland Products began producing its wood fuel pellets in Boyne City’s Air Industrial Park in fall of 2011. Shortly after it began operating, complaints about noise and odor began to arise.
Kirtland took several costly measures to mitigate the issues but were unsuccessful in quelling an the concerns of a number of residents.
McPherson said noise specialists Resource Systems Group (RSG) contacted him to let him know that Kirtland has contacted them, indicating that they are working to find a solution to the issue.
Boyne City officials have opted to focus on RSG’s findings in addressing the Kirtland issue.
The average sound level of someone trying to sleep with their windows open is 30 decibels Leq; however an additional drop of 15 decibels is likely when the windows are closed.
According to RSG, sound levels at the plant while it operated were determined to be between 72 and 74 decibels while the sound around the plant while it was inoperative was between 45 and 50 decibels.
Boyne City Commissioner Derek Gaylord inquired as to the status of one of the fixes proposed by RSG in its initial report.
“Was there any comments as to the second of the three proposed fixes by RSG, which was the cement enclosures, which according to RSG would have the most impact on the low frequency sound that most people are experiencing?” Gaylord said.
According to the noise assessment performed at wood pellet manufacturer Kirtland Products, the noisiest equipment are the indoor hammermills and the outdoor fans and air power units.
McPherson said that fix was not specifically discussed by the planning commission.
“I think that is kind of cost prohibitive for Kirtland to do so they may look at some other alternatives that may accomplish the same thing in a more economical manner,” McPherson said.
The plant’s noise levels, as measured by RSG from the Boyne City Municipal Airport, ranged between 49 and 52 decibels while operating and between 40 and 48 decibels when it was not.
Gaylord asked if Kirtland was planning to move more equipment inside.
McPherson said Kirtland was “reaching out to consultants” in search of ideas.
RSG’s recommendations included addressing the pulsation through an air pressure and plant design review; reducing sound levels from all primary outdoor noise sources identified; changing the vehicle backup alarms to quieter versions; and installing sound-deadening vinyl stripping on interior and exterior conveyor openings in addition to the idea to create concrete noise buffers.
“So, they’re not (implementing) probably the most effective part of those three regulations?” Gaylord said. “They’re not interested or able to carry them out?”
At meeting after meeting, sound sufficient to cause annoyance and concern has been described by dozens of Boyne area residents.
The sound meter at a residence on Nordic Drive showed decibel levels of between 39 and 50 while the plant operated and levels of 38 and 50 when it did not operate according to RSG’s initial study.
The sound levels measured at a residence on Kuhn Drive, which is nearly 4,600 feet west-southwest of Kirtland, were recorded in a bedroom with the windows open and closed.
According to the RSG report, the highest sound level from the Kirtland Plant at a residence was at the manse for the church on Beardlsey Street which was 62 decibels.
According to RSG’s study, the highest sound level found at a zoned residential area was at the corner of Boyne Summit Road and East Division street at 53 decibels.
The noise levels which exceed the 35 decibel noise threshold extend nearly one mile west and 4,900 feet north-northwest of Kirtland’s plant.
While to a lesser extent, complaints of strong odors have also been made by some residents and at least one commissioner.
Boyne City Commissioner Laura Sansom asked if the MDEQ air quality stack test results had yet been made available to the city.
“They represented to the planning commission that they would have that data delivered to the DEQ prior to the next planning commission meeting,” McPherson said.
Sansom said she is unsure of the source, but that she recently smelled a strong wood-related odor at her workplace.
“I’m not sure that it’s even Kirtland related, but one day last week—I don’t know if anyone else in town noticed it … there was a real strong odor of wood burning and it was like overwhelming and a lot of people made comments on it,” Sansom said.
Boyne City Manager Michael Cain asked Sansom what day it was.
Sansom said she was unsure. Cain said he also smelled a strong smell one day but that he believed it was burning leaves.
Sansom reiterated that she did not know whether the smell emanated from Kirtland.
The Boyne City Planning Commission will next discuss the Kirtland issue at 5:30 p.m. on Monday Dec. 17.