Briggs & Stratton’s equipment testing continues to irk residents who ask board to enforce ordinance
A group of neighbors tired of what they say is excessive noise coming from the Briggs & Stratton proving grounds on Highway LL beseeched the Port Washington Town Board on Monday to enforce the town’s noise ordinance.
It was a recurring debate that got testy as more than a dozen frustrated residents confronted the board over an issue they say has been recurring for years — one they said they need the town’s help in resolving.
“I don’t think any demand we’re making is unreasonable. We’re looking for a time frame for it to be solved, and we’ll keep coming until it’s handled,” Michael Howarth, 3251 Bay Hill Rd., told the board.
Officials, for their part, said they have been trying to work with the company to solve the problem and noted the complexity of dealing with noise issues.
Town Chairman Jim Melichar said he’s taken the residents’ complaints to company representatives at the proving grounds and they assured him they are working to solve the issue.
He said he was told a request to install acoustic fencing to muffle the sound is pending before corporate officials.
The town, Melichar said, has to work with the company as well as residents.
“What am I supposed to do? Shut them down?” Melichar asked. “I have a hard time asking a business to shut down.”
That’s not what they want either, residents said. They just want the noise to be controlled so they can enjoy their properties.
Although there have been some improvements — Briggs no longer tests its machinery at night, they said — there is much that needs to be done yet.
The problem, residents said, is that Briggs & Stratton will run mowers on pavement, unmanned, for 15 hours a day to test them, which creates a loud and annoying noise that spreads through the area.
“When they run those mowers over concrete, it gets pretty noisy,” one man told the board.
“We moved here for the quiet,” another man said. “To have factory noise when you’re sitting outside is pretty annoying.”
“I hear it when my windows are closed,” said Nancy Gauthier, 3283 Bay Hill Rd. “It’s not so much the volume as the pitch. It’s a whine that really drives you crazy.”
The noise isn’t a daily event, but it happens frequently, residents said.
“Their methods change all the time,” Al Gauthier said. “This summer it was quiet.”
Melichar said he’s spoken to workers at the site who say they are trying to get a noise-absorbing fence installed that should help the situation.
“That is going to be their first line of defense,” Melichar said.
The town has a noise ordinance, and the board needs to enforce it, said Rory Cattelan, 3274 Bay Hill Rd.
Cattelan, who sent the board an e-mail prior to the meeting outlining his concerns, noted that the ordinance calls for all noise to be muffled or controlled so it is not objectionable.
“There is no control or muffling at all,” he wrote. “No berm, no shelter, no vegetation, nothing. Why isn’t this ordinance enforced? Are we not an annoyed or disturbed neighborhood? What makes Briggs & Stratton exempt from abiding by these ordinances?”
Cattelan reiterated those concerns at the meeting, adding that he and his neighbors only want to enjoy their property.
“If the town does not pressure them to be good neighbors, then they have no incentive and we have no voice,” he wrote. “But we do have a vote.”
Town Supr. Mike Didier said part of the problem is that noise ordinances are difficult to enforce. The town can write a citation, but too often, it will be thrown out in court on a technicality, he said.
“That’s one reason we’re trying to work with them first,” he said.
Melichar said he went to the site after receiving Cattelan’s e-mail, and officials there told him they’re doing all they can.
“They’re working their way through corporate,” he said.
But the neighbors said they keep getting promises and not action from the firm, and they’re sick of it.
“Why can’t they just put hay bales around the fence?” asked Howarth. “It’s worth a shot. It’s got to be better than nothing.”
Melichar said this might be a solution, at least until the company installs acoustic fencing.
“I’ll talk to them tomorrow. I’ll take a semiload of straw there and donate it,” he said. “That should help.”
But Cattelan told the board it needs to keep the pressure on Briggs & Stratton to solve the problem.
“I hate coming to complain to you as much as you hate hearing from me, but without pressure, noting will happen,” he said. “Our best approach is to force them to be friendly neighbors.”