Decibel meter finds violators aplenty

By Emily Le Coz | NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – If you drive a vehicle, laugh out loud, run a tractor or drop a heavy object outdoors, you probably will violate a proposed noise ordinance under consideration by the Lee County Board of Supervisors.
Even the man responsible for enforcing the laws, Sheriff Jim Johnson, can’t keep quiet enough to comply. The soft rumble of his SUV idling in the parking lot of Fellowship Baptist Church exceeded the maximum decibel limit outlined by the ordinance.
It registered 60.7 on the hand-held decibel meter Johnson held as he stood some five dozen feet away in a neighbor’s yard. The limit is 58 decibels during the evening; 65 at day.
A passing Chevy pickup truck produced even more noise – 81.2 decibels as it rounded a curve on County Road 931.
“It’s ridiculous,” Johnson said. “If this passes, we’ll be out arresting people all day.”
The ordinance was pitched to supervisors at the urging of two residents who said they have long suffered the loud music of their neighbors with little or no recourse.
But Johnson said a state law already prohibits people from disturbing the peace or disturbing families. And under that law, county residents can file affidavits against alleged offenders and have them arrested and taken to court for possible sanctions.
“We have a law on the books and it works,” Johnson said. “I can maybe see a county ordinance that says no loud music after midnight, but the way the ordinance is right now, I can’t support it.”
The ordinance sets decibel limits but makes little distinction between someone mowing their lawn at noon or blaring their music at midnight. That, Johnson said, is the problem.
To see how many potential violators his department might have to ticket or arrest per day, Johnson borrowed a decibel meter from the Tupelo Police Department. The device resembles a walkie-talkie with a foam ball on the antenna. Johnson holds it and walks several yards from the offending noise to measure its decibels as it would be heard by a neighbor.
A man who dropped a heavy chain Monday on Auburn Road registered 63.9 decibels from across the street. When he revved his tractor, it produced 65.7 decibels.
A county garbage truck rumbled by at 87.4 decibels. A few minutes later, in the Lake Piomingo subdivision, a county road crew fed tree branches and limbs to a wood chipper, which roared at 94.0 decibels while idle and 102.6 while gnawing the debris.
All the measurements were taken from 25 to 75 feet away.
In a prior test, Johnson found that children playing on a playground elicited 72 decibels and Crosstown traffic produced 82.
The wind even broke the law on a few occasions.
Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the ordinance 9 a.m., Feb. 21 at the Lee County Justice Center and are expected to vote on the matter either that day or during a subsequent meeting.
If it passes, all county residents must keep the volume down or face a fine and possibly arrest.
But it’s unclear whether the ordinance will go to a vote in its current form or whether supervisors will alter it. Several supervisors told the Daily Journal they support the effort but need more information – and public input – before they’ll pass it.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com