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Harford Sheriff calls noise complaints 'quality of life issues'

Bane tells Fallston leaders to 'call the office' when they have problems with dirt bikes, other loud nuisances

BY DAVID ANDERSON, daanderson@baltsun.com

10:35 AM EST, November 27, 2013

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Members of the Fallston Community Council learned Tuesday night what options people have when it comes to dealing with noise issues in their neighborhoods.

"If you have a noise complaint, call the office," Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane told them.

Bane spoke during the community council's bi-monthly meeting about the various state and local regulations deputies use to determine if a noise violation has occurred.

The sheriff said the majority of complaints to his office involve dirt bikes.

"Noise complaints are quality of life issues," Bane told the audience gathered at the Fallston Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Company.

"More than anything else, we do try to work it out to the benefit of the community so that the neighbors aren't hating each other and wanting to kill each other when we walk away," he said.

Dave Williams, chairman of the Fallston Community Council, said the sheriff had wanted to speak during the council's September meeting, but representatives of the State Highway Administration were also scheduled to speak that evening about traffic issues in the Fallston area, and Bane was placed on the November agenda.

The sheriff, a Fallston resident who is serving his second term, has said he plans to run for re-election next year.

Deputies can enforce Harford County codes regarding noise, as well as state criminal codes such as disturbing the peace, and they have the authority to enforce Maryland Department of the Environment standards to reduce noise pollution.

Under the MDE regulations, deputies can take sound meters into the field when responding to a noise complaint and measure whether the offending noise exceeds the daytime limit of 65 decibels, between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., and the nighttime limit of 55 decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Violators can face civil penalties of as much as $10,000 under the environmental regulations.

Maj. Chris Swain of the Sheriff's Office, who presented the various standards and options deputies have, said violations of all three state and local standards are possible, depending on the situation.

"A deputy will respond, take the complaint and determine if there's been a violation," he explained.

The penalty for disturbing the peace under state criminal regulations can be either 60 days in jail, a $500 fine, or both, Swain said.

Anyone who violates the county noise standards could face a $250 fine for the first offense, $500 for the second and $1,000 for the third and any violations after that, according to a pamphlet provided to the audience.

Swain noted there are "a whole host of exceptions."

Some exemptions include emergency sirens, railroads, construction noise between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. that is lower than 90 decibels, home heat pumps and air conditioners that are lower than 75 and 70 decibels, respectively and "sanctioned" events such as an auto race between 7 a.m. and midnight, parades, amusements and sports, according to the pamphlet.

Swain said complaints about noise can be made anonymously, although a witness must testify in cases such as disturbing the peace.

"It's a very broad statute, but it has to be someone's peace to disturb, so we're going to have to have a witness on this," he explained.

In addition to dirt bikes, other common sources of noise listed in the pamphlet include live music, clubs, bars and restaurants, construction or landscaping before 7 a.m. and dogs in commercial kennels who are barking.

The county code states that "a person shall not make or cause to be made between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. any noise ... if the noise is audible on any property that is used for residential purposes and is located more than 50 feet from the source of the noise."

Exceptions include public service company operations, federal, state or county government operations, volunteer fire and ambulance company operations, farm equipment, and business and industrial operations as long as they meet code limitations, according to the pamphlet.

"We want peace and order in the community and everybody to understand that we're supposed to respect each other's privacy, and that they have the right to live in their community without having so much noise," the sheriff said.