Hoquiam residents complain about noise from chip operation

Several more Hoquiam residents urged the City Council Monday to do more about noise from the Willis Enterprises chip plant at Terminal 3 near the Bowerman Field airport, saying the levels have increased since the company has expanded hours of operation.

But city staff acknowledged a pending revised noise nuisance ordinance would exempt the company or others already operating within permitted decibel levels, and the council later voted to table the measure for further consideration.

Robert Delvalle, who is retired and lives on the hill above the chip plant and log yard, told the council he moved from “the big city to get away from the big noise.”

“I noticed when I first got here it was very quiet,” Delvalle said. But since Willis has increased its hours of operation, he has a hard time sleeping.

“Now I have to sleep in the back room of my house and lock all the doors and close all the windows to minimize the noise,” he said. “It’s buffered by two walls and I still hear the sound of the chip machine.”

Lynn Ogren, who has lived in the same Center Street home for the past 38 years, said she has never experienced the level of noise now coming from the chip plant. She likened one sound to having jet planes hover over her house and the other to having “giant tennis shoes” crashing around inside a clothes dryer.

“I especially love working in my yard and being outside, but the last two summers have been completely different because of the noise from Willis Enterprises,” she said.

“I know the council is concerned about jobs. I have absolutely no interest in shutting this place down, I just want them to be a good neighbor,” Ogren said.

When several other residents complained in September, the city sought to apply its nuisance ordinance to noise coming from the Willis operation.

But in an Oct. 17 letter to the city, Marc Horton, Port of Grays Harbor director of environmental and engineering services, argued against the move, saying the operation was permitted by the city in an industrial zone and that it also went through environmental review under the State Environmental Policy Act.

“Those documents indicate that operations were to potentially occur 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” the letter said.

Residents have complained that noise from the Willis plant was starting before 7 a.m. and could be heard in the evening hours as well. Willis produces and ships wood chips at the facility.

The revised ordinance defines what sort of noise amounts to a public nuisance and limits the noise to the hours of between 7 a.m. through 8 p.m. Among other noises, for industrial areas it defines an offending noise as “any sound made by operating or permitting the operation of any mechanically powered saw, drill, sander, grinder, lawn or garden tool, or similar device which is audible greater than 75 feet from residential areas between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.”

But the ordinance also “shall not apply to permitted uses in the industrial zone” or regularly scheduled events at parks, schools or during public assemblies, it states.

Horton told the council on Monday the Port now supports the ordinance because it exempts already permitted operations, such as those at Willis, a key Port tenant for the Hoquiam terminal.

“The modification we have asked for suggests the burden of this type of environmental review and mitigation would normally occur — and should occur — at the time of permitting, not after an operation has been under way for months or years,” Horton said.

Citizens have questioned whether the company could put up some sort of sound barrier around the facility. The city has measured the decibel level of the noise, and found it not to exceed allowable standards.

The city already has ample authority to define operating standards and noise conditions in the initial permitting process, Horton argued.

“But on the other hand, this amendment will send the right signal to future businesses and industry prospects that consider Hoquiam as their future home,” Horton said.

Mayor Jack Durney said the amended ordinance does identify industrial areas that are next to residential areas. It also defines what constitutes a public noise nuisance and the sounds it covers (musical instrument, whistle, sound amplifier, juke) yet it would exempt already permitted industrial zone users from the code.

“It really doesn’t address the current situation that our citizens are concerned about,” noted Councilman Ben Winkelman. The council then voted to table a final vote on the revised ordinance for a future meeting.

When acting on initial permits for industrial uses in the future, Durney said, the city should “be more insistent that things be enclosed” at the front end of the process. He acknowledged the noise can be significant and said he hoped “some moderation can be done.”

City Administrator Brain Shay noted the revised ordinance does apply to Willis and any other currently permitted industrial use, either now or in the future, as far as the time restrictions for operating grinding-type of equipment.

“What it doesn’t change is that under our code, there are decibel levels they have to comply with within different times of the day,” Shay said. “They do comply with those now.”