Noise Ordinance Discussion Turns Into Referendum on City Airport

By Beacon Staff

A Kalispell City Council work session on a proposed noise ordinance drew the ire of several west side residents Monday concerned about a clause in the language of the proposed ordinance that could exempt the city airport from any noise violations.

Although the proposed regulation is intended primarily as a means to give Kalispell Police the ability to issue citations over blaring car stereos, much of the discussion revolved around whether west side residents whose homes lay below frequent flight paths of the airport would lose their ability to complain about the noise. The sound of planes taking off and landing has long been a source of complaints at city council meetings, and the planned expansion of the city airport has some residents concerned the noise could worsen.

“How convenient, timely and sneaky,” Mary Iverson said to the council. “It robs us of the only mechanism we can use to protest the tyranny of noise from overhead aircraft.”

“This has been drafted up purely to omit the city airport from any noise ordinances,” Scott Davis said. “To me that’s a slap in the face.”

Mayor Pam Kennedy sought to head off any suspicion or accusations that the proposed ordinance was a backdoor method of prohibiting noise complaints against the airport, secretly drafted by city officials. Instead, she said, the ordinance was coming before council members for the first time to discuss its strengths and weaknesses. No formal votes are allowed at a work session.

“The council has not discussed this issue yet,” Kennedy said in response to Iverson. “This is not anything behind the scenes or underhanded.”

Adjutant City Attorney Rich Hickel, who drafted the ordinance, backed Kennedy up, saying he pulled the legal language together from similar noise ordinances used in cities across the nation.

“I took what I felt were the best aspects of other laws,” Hickel said. “My main concern in drafting this was to get a standard established which could be an enforceable standard.”

The council broadly agreed that any noise ordinance affecting the airport would need to be considered separate from regulations aimed at loud cars or friction between neighbors.

The proposed ordinance would adopt a “plainly audible” standard, allowing the city to prohibit noise audible from a specified distance, with those distances differing depending on time of day. In a memo to council, Hickel described the “plainly audible” standard as one preferable to that used in some other Montana cities because it does not require the purchase of expensive audio monitoring equipment and training for officers.

But some council members expressed concern about the subjectivity of enforcing the “plainly audible” standard, and questioned whether it would allow residents to file noise complaints about almost any sound.

“If this ordinance was to be adopted as written it’s going to open a whole can of worms for the chronic complainer,” Councilman Bob Hafferman said. “Until we have something better, I believe we’re better sticking with the existing ordinance rather than adopting this one.”

Most council members seemed to agree.

“This allows neighbor to fight neighbor and puts the city in the middle,” Councilman Tim Kluesner said. “The fact that I can be protected from my neighbor mowing his yard, but I’m not protected from the planes in the sky, I think there’s a disconnect there.”

The council requested Hickel revise the ordinance so it dealt more specifically with the noise issues facing police, and remove the clause protecting the airport. Kennedy said the council would take up a revised ordinance at a future work session.

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