By: Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
Boyne City officials request Kirtland operate between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. until sound mitigation can be achieved at the wood pellet fuel manufacturer’s plant.
The request followed a lengthy discussion which came on the heels of the noise assessment report meeting in recent weeks.
Tom Monley of Kirtland Products told Boyne City Commissioners during their regular July 24 meeting that Kirtland officials have pored over RSG’s report and have been told they can mitigate some of the pulsating noise—which had been identified as the number one cause of annoyance—for nearly $30,000 by the Kodiak Group.
“We’re looking at how we’re going to try to make that happen,” Monley said. “They say that they think they could possibly fix the pulsating within that $30,000 but they have to engineer it first to determine whether that could happen.”
Boyne City Commissioner Tom Neidhamer asked if Kirtland had begun to work on any of the other noise concerns.
Monley said “no” and that Kirtland is focused on the pulsating right now and that is their primary concern.
Boyne City Planning Director Scott McPherson said he has received additional complaints about noise from the Kirtland Products plant since the meeting in recent weeks where Resource Systems Group gave its noise assessment report to Boyne City officials.
Boyne City Manager Michael Cain said he has contacted the Northern lakes Economic Alliance to determine if any funding is available to help Kirtland pay for the proposed noise mitigation efforts outlined in RSG’s report.
Cain said the noise mitigation could potentially run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Boyne City Mayor Ron Grunch asked if Kirtland could shorten their hours of operation until the pulsating noise under control.
Monley said he didn’t really know if that was an option.
“We have a lot of citizens that would really like to see different operating hours … so they could at least get a decent night’s sleep,” Grunch said. “They’d like you to consider that and get back to our city manager.”
Boyne City Commissioner Laura Sansom said she, also has received numerous comments from community members upset over the noise levels.
“Some people have even said it’s even worse now than it was before,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s just a perception thing or if there is any truth to it.”
Sansom said the sound mitigation issue included three steps and asked if Kirtland had planned on addressing all of them.
“We don’t know what we’re doing—we know we’re focusing on the number one mitigation issue,” Monley said.
Neidhamer mentioned the Aug. 14 plan for Kirtland to come back to the city with a plan of action and questioned what kind of process there would be to ensure the issues are dealt with in a timely manner.
Grunch read from correspondence concerning the Kirtland issue. An e-mail to city officials stated that the plant was running from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. five days per week and the noise continues to be a nuisance.
Several other letters echoed the sentiment that living with the constant pervasive noise was disruptive to daily life and has diminished the enjoyment of neighboring properties during both night and day.
One e-mail accused the city of doing everything it can to help Kirtland but not the residents.
At least two audience members said they have had trouble enjoying their homes due to the noise.
Cain said there are clear enforcement actions the city can take.
“We’ve basically held back from those as we’ve worked on some of these processes and gathered information,” he said.
Cain said if the commission feels there is enough progress working with Kirtland then they may wish to continue moving forward. However, Cain said the commission can send the matter back to the planning commission and let them take action on the matter.
Cain said the easiest thing for the city to do would have been to slap Kirtland with sanctions instead of trying to work with it to find a solution, but instead chose to find an equitable solution.
“Maybe we’re trying to do the impossible,” Cain said. “But I think we owe it to everybody involved to give it our best effort—and I think we have up to this point.”
Grunch said Kirtland had taken some action by getting an estimate for sound mitigation from their engineering firm.
Cain said he does not believe the city can tell Kirtland what its operating hours may be.
Grunch suggested Kirtland come back to the city with a plan for “reasonable operating hours” of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. by Aug. 7 to give people more quiet time for sleeping.
“It’s time to quite kicking the can down the road,” Grunch said. “We want some action.”
Neidhamer was concerned that Kirtland will not have the chance to get up to full operating capacity in order to test its exhaust stacks as required under environmental regulations.
Boyne City Commissioner Derek Gaylord said instead of trying to appease everybody, due process should be followed.
“I think Scott McPherson, under direction of the city manager, needs to take the information that’s been received from the reports, the citizens, from Kirtland directly and make a decision: how long do they run?; how many hours?; do they not run until they can show a clear plan of the recommended abatement techniques and the financial ability to carry them out?” Gaylord said. “That’s where we’re at. This is not about feelings … we’ve extended and given opportunities for this process to develop.”
Gaylord said anything else is just muddying the waters.
Boyne City Commissioner Delbert “Gene” Towne said he still wants to see a plan and a definite time limit.
Sansom said she is concerned whether Kirtland will be able to make necessary corrections including $220,000 just for one concrete noise abatement structure.
“I would think you want to work with the city and the citizens of this community and limit your time as much as you can until you come back with some kind of a real solid plan that says this is a go and we can fund it and we can do it,” Sansom said.
Commissioner Neidhamer asked to hear from the city’s planner. McPherson said his power over the situation may be overestimated.
“With all due respect to Commissioner Gaylord I think you’re overestimating my ability in this regard,” he said. “In the ordinance I am required to review the operation of the conditional use permit, make a determination whether or not it’s in compliance; if it’s not in compliance I refer it back to the planning commission.”
McPherson said he does not have the power to amend the permit, add conditions or adjust it in any way.
“My opinion is they are not in compliance with that permit,” he said. “But, we went down this path of hiring a firm with the intention of finding a solution to this problem.”
McPherson said this situation is well outside the requirements of the city, but that the city should be applauded for taking extra measures to try to find a solution.
The planning commission would have to be the body to change expectations including hours of operation, decibel levels and any other issues.
McPherson said Kirtland has approval to operate 24 hours per day, though they have decreased their hours of operation in order to mitigate noise while a solution is found.
Cain said he is willing to sit down with Kirtland, but he needs clear expectations from the commission on what his options are.