Task force suggests higher noise limit, 'sound oversight committee' for loud bars in Portland

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PORTLAND — The task force created earlier this year to research options for addressing excessive noise in the Old Port and downtown is recommending the noise limit be raised and that a committee be created to deal with problems.

The Downtown Noise Task Force, made up of bar owners, musicians, residents, City Councilor Dory Waxman and Assistant Police Chief Mike Sauschuck, sent their proposal to the City Council this week. The council is expected to vote on the recommendations later this month.

The proposed “sound oversight committee” would act as a mediator in situations where an establishment has been the subject of multiple verified complaints. The owner of the bar or club would have to meet with the committee and the complainants to address the noise issues.

The committee could then recommend noise mitigation measures. If the establishment fails to comply the committee could recommend to the City Council that the club’s entertainment license be revoked.

The oversight committee would also meet with new entertainment license applicants to work proactively on potential noise issues, according to the task force recommendation. They could tell the establishment to install sound proofing or recommend limits on operation. The committee’s recommendations would go to the City Council as proposed conditions for the entertainment license.

The committee would also have the authority to meet with owners of bars, clubs and restaurants that don’t have entertainment licenses, but are nonetheless loud.

The task force visited the Old Port and downtown entertainment districts on two Friday nights, one in May and one in June, to measure noise levels. Members decided the current limit of 55 decibels is too low to be enforceable, and are recommending it be raised to 92dB.

Fifty-five decibels is equivalent to a normal conversation between two or three people; truck traffic produces a measurement of about 90dB.

According to task force findings, 92dB is within the range that research has found can cause hearing loss from sustained exposure. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration suggests no more than six hours of daily exposure to noise at that level.

Mary Costigan, an attorney for the city who worked with the task force to craft the proposed ordinance, said the committee could be in place by this fall. Members would be appointed by the council and be made up of a police officer, a city employee, a resident and an entertainment license holder.

Waxman, the task force chairwoman, could not be reached for comment.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net