BY LEANN DILBECK –
Both parties continue working to reach a compromise in a story The Pulse first brought to you last week concerning noise and dust complaints from neighbors to the PineMoore Shavings sawmill on the south side of Mena. Following a petition and standing-room only meeting in City Hall, the two sides are now meeting on a weekly basis with city leadership to reach a compromise, which is a welcomed development to Mena Mayor George McKee and the ADEQ.
The first joint meeting was held last week and according to McKee was very “productive.” Lance Lowrey, manager of the facility, first wanted the complainants to identify and then quantify the problem to begin developing a solution to the problem. It was determined that the noise was the chief complaint.
To quantify the problem and therefore quantify a solution, Lowrey has ordered an OSHA approved new decibel reader that will be used to take different readings from various points, including the residential areas claiming to have received the most impact. He agreed to contact a third-party Industrial Noise Control contractor, which can advise on various reduction methods and products. He recently invested in $15,000 worth of noise reduction panels that were suppose to reduce noise up to 60 percent but it still has not reduced to a level agreeable to complainants.
Lowrey also agreed to consider changing the mill’s hours of operation to exclude nighttime milling. He also said that he is now changing the blades on a daily basis, instead of weekly, that has also helped to reduce the noise.
McKee said that he is encouraged at the progress made from just one meeting and Lowrey’s willingness to be a good neighbor in the local community when essentially he isn’t required to do. “There is not an agency in Arkansas, because I’ve done the research, that regulates noise. Some people think that is OSHA but that is for employees. His employees wear ear protection and he is not in any violation with them,” said McKee.
McKee also reiterated that while he sympathizes with the complainants, PineMoore is not doing anything “wrong” and that the sawmill operates in an appropriately “industrial” zoned area that specifically states: “The manufacture of heavy, raw products and those operations that are generally objectionable to residential and business uses, including animal and poultry slaughter, foundries, sawmills, and junkyards.”
According to records at City Hall, the site where PineMoore Shavings operates has been zoned industrial since at least 1963 and has been the site of multiple timber/forestry related businesses.
Efforts have been made to involve the ADEQ with the noise complaints but in an email, a representative from that agency, Heinz Braun, stated implicitly, “The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality does not have authorization to regulate noise.” He went on to say, “We have found that the best way to get things accomplished in these type of situations is to allow the local parties to try to work out a solution. It appears to me that the Mayor and PineMoore Shavings are cooperating in attempts to correct the situation.”
McKee said that Lowrey is an astute businessman and is a “problem-solver” and as long as meetings and negotiations with all parties agreeing to come to the table to work to find a compromise continue, he is confident a solution can be identified.
The Mayor is ever cognizant of the economic impact the business brings to the area. “It’s difficult to compete with larger towns to bring in industry. Pine Moore brought new jobs to Mena and new families.” McKee explained that of the 23 jobs at Pine Moore, 17 were new hires from Mena and 3 were families who relocated with children to Mena from Waldron.
“Currently, PineMoore has an annual payroll of $800,000. With zero growth, the 10-year economic impact is $17 million… that includes payroll, taxes, local purchases which includes pine and cedar, banking, etc. And, that’s with zero growth,” McKee said. He added that the Lowrey’s are hosting new customers on site this week that, if the contract is signed, could result in an immediate 29 percent growth, that will ultimately mean more jobs for the area.
“He’s told me that Mena is the absolute perfect location, geographically, for Pine Moore to operate and allows them the best distribution for their customers in Missouri, Texas, and Oklahoma. The best location… that’s not something we hear often,” McKee added.
Not many sites in rural communities are equipped with the 3-phase electrical requirements necessary for many industrial operations, McKee explained. The site where PineMoore is located already offered it and for those that want to argue to relocate further into the county is just “unrealistic. It’s not just cost prohibitive, it’s logistically not possible.”
McKee added that he is sympathetic to both parties but that the city’s hands are essentially “tied” and that is why it is important that dialogue between the two parties continue to reach a solution.
Andy DeSei, owner of the Ozark Inn, also wished to clarify his position that he feels was misrepresented during the public meeting that he did not attend, saying that he is unable to rent the first 4 or five rooms at the front of the hotel because of noise complaints but that is because of the highway and train. DeSei said that Lowrey makes regular business referrals (truck drivers, construction contractors, etc.) to him that essentially help his business.
The Mayor explained that while the issue is challenging he is confident that a solution acceptable to all parties concerned will be reached because of everyone’s willingness to come with open minds and meet together, “I am committed to continue to work very hard on finding a compromise that will suit everyone and I have great hopes because of how everyone is working together.”
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