By: Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
An overview of the Kirtland noise study was given to the Boyne City Commission and dozens of members of the public during their Tuesday July 17, work session by a representative of Resource Systems Group (RSG), the firm hired earlier this spring to assess the issue.
While no action was taken during this informational meeting, Kirtland officials were expected to be on the Tuesday July 24 regular city commission meeting agenda to answer any questions city officials may have and to later make their intentions known at the first city commission meeting in August.
The bulk of the more than two hour meeting consisted of the presentation itself.
“We conducted the noise assessment and mitigation plan for the Kirtland Products plant for Boyne City,” said Eddie Duncan, a Board Certified Noise Control Engineer with RSG, who gave the report via speaker phone from a remote location. “The process we used for this assessment was to conduct a site visit to assess the sound levels in the community and also to gather data on noise emissions at the plant and then to take that data back and conduct some of the modeling which allowed us to look at the sound level everywhere and then also figure out which of the sources are the primary contributors to the noise throughout the neighboring areas.”
He added, “With that information we’re then able to figure out which of the noises need to be mitigated to meet the noise threshold goal.”
Site visits were conducted between May 22 and May 25.
“I think the primary cause of the noise in this case is the pulsation,” Duncan said. “I would recommend we look at that before we even use enclosures on equipment outdoors and see what sort of results we get from that.”
He added, “Even if you incorporate these mitigation measures that does not necessarily mean the annoyance goes away.”
Four sound level monitors were used; three were installed at the plant during the site visits and one was used to measure sound levels throughout the community.
Eight short-term sound level monitors were installed throughout Boyne City in accordance with locations that corresponded to high complaint areas.
The long-term monitors were located in the following places:
The eight short-term community monitors were placed in the following locations:
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.
Duncan said he believes the low frequency pulsation is a key component of the excessive noise.
“That would be found to be highly annoying,” he said. “Low frequency travels farther.”
A low frequency can create omni-directional bass which can travel much farther than higher frequencies.
Duncan said some outdoor equipment and fans are also contributing to the noise issue.
According to the study, there are no local ordinances or state statutes which regulate or establish quantitative noise standards applicable to this project.
“There are no federal noise standards that apply to wood pellet plants on private land,” the RSG study stated. “Many federal agencies have adopted guidelines and standards that apply to other types of facilities.”
Though there are several ways to measure sound, the RSG study says the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 55 decibels Leq (Leq is a measured average of sound pressure over a given time.) during the day to protect against “serious annoyance” and 50 decibels Leq to protect against “moderate annoyance.” At night, the WHO recommends no more than 40 decibels Leq.
The average sound level of someone trying to sleep with the windows open is 30 decibels Leq; however an additional drop of 15 decibels is likely when the windows are closed.
According to RSG there are numerous factors in what constitutes “annoyance.”
“One study has found that noise sensitivity is independent of noise level in terms of determining some people’s annoyance to noise at least in reference to noise from airports,” RSG stated. “This may imply that at all levels of noise, noise sensitive people are more likely to be annoyed than the general population and that even if noise is reduced to very low levels, there may still be highly sensitive people who are annoyed.”
In order to establish a noise threshold, RSG requested feedback from some people in Boyne City.
“The results of this feedback were a request to utilize a noise threshold level that would be appropriate for a conservative tolerance towards noise,” RSG’s report stated. “Based on this feedback, a (nighttime) noise threshold of 40 decibels Leq was chosen.”
The 40 decibel goal applies outside houses within zoned residential areas.
If the sound is pulsating, then the maximum nighttime decibel level would be lowered to 35 Leq.
“The plant was audible when it was operating, but was not the primary contributing factor to daytime levels,” RSG’s report stated. “It was a larger contributor to the nighttime levels.”
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.
“(The) tones, while relatively quiet, are clearly audible in the house even with the windows closed,” RSG stated. “The highest sound level from the Kirtland Plant at a residence is at the manse for the church on Beardlsey Street which is 62 decibels.”
According to RSG’s study, the highest sound level found at a zoned residential area at the corner of Boyne Summit Road and East Division street at 53 decibels.
“Sound levels in the Nordic Drive area at the facade of the residences range between 44 decibels and 51 decibels,” RSG stated. “And, the highest sound level at a zoned residential property in the neighborhood around the airport is 46 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.
According to RSG, mitigation is required to shift the noise threshold goal range to within 1,000 feet of Kirtland’s plant.
• If RSG’s mitigation recommendations are followed, the firm believes noise can be reduced by 13 decibels at the nearest zoned residential area affected and by 18 decibels at the church on Beardsley Street.
“Lastly, the mitigated sound levels in most zoned residential areas are below 35 decibels,” the report states.
RSG’s recommendations include addressing the pulsation through an air pressure and plant design review; reducing sound levels from all primary outdoor noise sources identified; change the vehicle backup alarms to quieter versions; and install sound-deadening vinyl stripping on interior and exterior conveyor openings.
“It should be noted that this noise assessment assumes that the plant must run 24 hours per day as indicated by Kirtland,” RSG stated. “If the plant were able to operate only during the daytime, the noise threshold goal would be increased to 45 or 50 decibels—which would result in less necessary mitigation.”
Several members of the public spoke out with concerns they had about noise and the potential for emissions during the meeting.
One local woman said she often had to run her television to help drown the sound of the plant and added that the smell from the plant often burned her nose.
Some audience members wanted to know how noise would be measured once the equipment had been running for awhile.
The chairman of the Kirtland Noise Issue Citizens Committee Hugh Conklin told the crowd the environmental issues will be addressed through the testing Kirtland is required to undergo through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).
Kirtland must be able to operate 24 hours per day and at full capacity in order for the emissions testing to be performed by the state—which has been scheduled for Sept. 11.
Conklin said the committee felt the potential emissions issues were important but that there was no good reason to duplicate the measures Kirtland will be required to undergo anyway.
Local realtor Mark Kowalske said he has had a couple decide not to buy a house in Boyne City due to the pellet plant. He said he also knows of a homeowner who is selling his Boyne City home because he no longer wishes to live with the noise.
Once audience member said she cannot stand the noise and that it was driving she and her family crazy.
Kirtland Products began operating 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.
“So where do we go from here? As a community, as a city commission, as a city government,” said Boyne City Commissioner Tom Neidhamer. “If we tell Kirtland that they need to implement these mitigation solutions then do they have to do it?”
He added, “If they put a lot of money into mitigation and there are still people that are bothered … I guess I’m looking for direction as how we solve that as a community.”
Boyne City Planning Director Scott McPherson said he believes it is now up to Kirtland to review the study and consider the suggestions made by RSG.
Boyne City Mayor Ron Grunch said he would like to see Kirtland bring a plan of action to the city by the Aug. 14 meeting.
Boyne City Commissioner Derek Gaylord said he wanted some sort of a time-line set to avoid prolonging the issue. No specific action was taken during the meeting as it was an informational session.