BY LEANN DILBECK –
It was a standing room only in the council room of City Hall as the Mena Ordinance Review Committee met Friday in response to a petition requesting the City to “stop the intolerable nuisance,” referencing noise and pollution complaints of the Pine Moore Shaving operation located on Hwy 375 at the former Mid-South Wood Products site.
The petition stated the following complaints:
- “The noise generated from the equipment is a constant whining sound that renders those within range unable to function normally. This noise is having physical and mental health consequences in the form of headaches, nausea, irritations, etc. with the long-term effects not yet determined.
- The shavings dust is also polluting the air and is continuously deposited onto our homes and vehicles. We are breathing this dust into our lungs, also causing concern for short and long-term health issues.
- Because of these obvious daily aggravations, we believe our property values have dropped significantly, affecting our overall financial stability, and our ability to sell our property if and when necessary.
- Our pets are also suffering from the noise and pollution. Even the birds have ceased to sing. The animals only return to normal behaviors when the plant is not in operation.”
Pine Moore Shavings relocated from Waldron to Mena approximately four months ago. Waldron City Officials confirmed to The Pulse that they too received numerous complaints from area residents during its time in their City but that they were never formally cited. City Officials said they relocated one time while in their county but their facility burned at the second location and it was at that time they relocated to Mena.
City Councilwoman Darla Martel serves as the chair of the Ordinance Review Committee. She expressed her concern and interest in hearing from the residents but also explained that the City must consider the economic impact of the local business.
Pine Moore Shavings home office is based in Dierks, Ark. Manager of the Mena operation, Lance Lowrey, spoke with The Pulse on September 30 and said that his company has heard the complaints and, at that time, had ordered $15,000 worth of sound panels that were expected to reduce the noise by 60 percent. They were installed in October and residents have said the noise is still at an unacceptable level.
Lowrey also emphatically shared the economic benefits his company had brought to the area by providing 23 jobs with an annual payroll of approximately $800,000. Lowrey said because of the location of the business, trucking traffic had increased and; therefore, fuel sales would be positively impacted. “It’s disappointing to get this sort of reaction in a community that when you drive down your Main Street has a ton of empty buildings,” Lowrey told The Pulse.
John Puckett, President of the Polk County Fair Association said that Lowrey donated $4,000 worth of shavings to the Fairgrounds earlier this year but didn’t want any publicity over it. “He just came to us and wanted to help.” He added that he, and many others, spend a lot of volunteer hours at the Fairgrounds, and that many times they don’t even hear the noise and certainly not at a level that warrants it being called a “nuisance. If we hear anything, we hear jobs.” Puckett added that the site where Pine Moore Shavings operates for decades has always been an industrial site and primarily in the forestry business. “Before Mid-South was there, they were treating with creosote that had a bad smell … this is nothing new. Industry has been there for years.”
Mayor George McKee said the issue is challenging because he sympathizes with the residents, values the economic impact the business brings, but that the City has little that it can enforce. The business is in an appropriately zoned area and that through his research he has not found any agency that addresses sound/noise issues, ADEQ, or otherwise.
McKee also added from everything he has observed, Lowrey is going above and beyond to be a good neighbor, even going to one of the complainant’s homes multiple times in response to their complaints to hear the noise himself. Since the meeting on Friday, McKee said that Lowrey has requested regularly scheduled meetings be held with one representative of the group of concerned citizens along with himself to work collaboratively toward a compromise.
Lowrey has submitted decibel readings at various points, 1,700 to 2,200 feet, from the facility. Readings within the facility are 80-85 with comparisons being a train that is over 100 decibels. Leading to one of the chief complaints from the petitioners, the whining noise is non-stop, approximately 16 hours a day. Lowrey also said that the average manufacturing noise level is measured at 90 decibels.
City Attorney Danny Thrailkill told those present that the City’s current nuisance ordinance is vague. He explained that a more comprehensive ordinance would have to be voted on by the full City Council. He understood that the residents are seeking an immediate action and said that going through the City would be a lengthy process. He also told committee members that he had already consulted with Don Zimmerman of the Municipal League and enforcement of a retroactive ordinance adopted after the business has already relocated to Mena potentially legally exposed the City. Thrailkill’s recommendation was for residents to seek a court-ordered injunction. He also attempted to prepare residents for the legal battle that may lay ahead for them “because, as I understand it, they’ve [Pine Moore] already lawyered up.” One of the residents affected quickly replied, “We’re not afraid to lawyer up, too!”
One resident at the meeting explained that he relocated to Mena for retirement for the peace and quiet and that he didn’t expect to have to wear earplugs while in his own home. Another was oxygen dependent and had serious concerns regarding the health hazard of the dust coming from the operation despite the installation of misters. Others expressed concerns for the impact it was having on their children because they are unable to sleep soundly. Councilwoman Terri Neugent asked if the noise was still audible within their homes and many spoke of measures with cardboard and tape and other attempts to seal out the noise but to no avail. Another in the group of aggravated residents said that a neighboring motel had lost the ability to rent rooms on approximately half of his property because of complaints from guests but the motel owner(s) were not in attendance at the meeting. Residents explained they, too, understand the economic impact but believe they also have rights as residents, saying that they don’t want to shut the facility down but ask that it be relocated to a less residential area. One of the most outspoken among the group told committee members they [City] were negligent in allowing Pine Moore to locate in Mena, saying, “We were here first.”
Councilwoman Martel told the residents that she would like to meet with Lowrey and expressed the need for a joint meeting of all parties to see if a compromise could be reached.
While the city was unable to provide the immediate action the residents were seeking, they were not discouraged and ready to proceed to whatever means necessary to restore peace to their neighborhoods.