Tubby Stadium at University of Delaware on Game Day, Credit to BlueHens.com

Noiseless in Newark

Newark, DE, home to the University of Delaware, has enacted a new ordinance which targets all types of noisemakers. Loud teens, crying babies, seniors with respirators, just the run of the mill delinquents making a ruckus as usual. In the unlikely event this ordinance does solve the noise pollution problem at hand, it will do so by wasting time and tax payer money.

This ordinance is under more scrutiny than others, that’s because it’s enforcing limitations that are far beyond what’s necessary. Newark code views a noise violation as, “using exterior loudspeakers or operating a television, radio or musical instrument at an unreasonable volume”. Fair enough. Except who gets to decide what is an unreasonable volume? The ordinance states that 9pm-7am the noise level must not exceed 50 decibels (dBA) and 1–5 am the limit is 42 decibels. The sound of a toilet flushing is approximately 75 decibels, conversational speech 60 decibels, a babbling brook 40 decibels, and a soft whisper is 30 decibels. Apparently, before 9pm you must turn off your air conditioner, stop the washing machine, and unplug your telephone. These noise limits are beyond what is necessary to keep the residential area calm and peaceful.

The reason behind policy is to protect the “physical, mental, and social well-being of the citizens of the City of Newark” , and the citizens are feeling anything but protected.

Tweet from @lucaskywalk

Residents including, seniors citizens, people with medically needed generators, hearing-impaired, and business owners who get early morning deliveries have said they’re, “against making the noise ordinance stricter”. 43.6% of Newark is aged 18–24, nearly half of the city is college students who attend the university. Undoubtedly unreasonable limits are being set in a college town, essentially targeting students. In an interview Todd Ruckle,City Council member, stated, “It’s literally going to devastate the city. It’s a bad law.”

It’s understandable to want to keep Newark peaceful, but these changes go beyond that. The sound restrictions make Newark, “the quietest municipality in the state of Delaware”. It is absurd to plan to make Newark, a city with a population of 32,549 quieter than a municipality like Milton, De with 2,717. A physics professor at the university, John Morgan, views the city as a “party town” and if we want families to continue to live here we must “assure them that by statute we have the quietest single family residential areas in our state”. Madison, Wisconsin was rated the number one best city for a family to live in in 2014, a city whose noise limit rises above Newark’s by at least of 15 decibels at anytime.

What makes it extreme is its enforcement. The code states that, “The minimum fine for creating unlawful noise in this manner is $100 for the first offense”. That isn’t the only consequence that can be a result of a first offense, “Violations shall subject the offender to arrest without a prior warning” . A noise infraction, even a first offense, can result in a criminal record which is a threat to the future of the students. There are additional penalties if one doesn’t “demonstrate compliance”. Meaning if you somehow manage to commit two noise offenses within 60 days the city gave the city manager the “authority to revoke, upon conviction, any building permit” from owners and, “shall result in the termination of the rental agreement as it applies to all tenants at the rental property” for renters. Not only do you face a fine and arrest but a violator of the ordinance faces expulsion from their homes and/or apartments.

Noise ordinances rarely actually accomplish what they set out to do. The Environmental Health Perspective stated that, “Municipal regulation evolved into noise ordinances that regulate the timing and intensity of noise, are expensive and difficult to enforce, and have not proven to be effective at reducing noise”. These ordinances place a hefty burden on the officers who are required to enforce it, require the increase of patrolling, the purchasing of decibel measuring equipment, and an increase of criminal proceedings brought to court. These changes are simply costing the City of Newark time and money, for what seems to be no avail in actual noise disturbances.

There is no question that excess noise negatively impacts the health of a population. A study shows that adolescents in noisy environments have “poor school performance, which leads to stress and misbehavior”. They also “have decreased learning, lower reading comprehension, and concentration deficits”. With a majority of the population in Newark being students, who require focus and above average school performance, this problem poses a very real issue and requires a real solution.

To solve this revisit the guidelines enforced in the ordinance. The U.S. EPA states that 55 decibels is the highest recommended 24 hour exposure one should have to “protect the public from all adverse effects on health and welfare in residential areas”. As we experience much louder noises during the day the night provides time to be removed from such pollution. Changing the time and sound requirements to maximum of 55 dBA between said hours will certainly be more reasonable and easier to follow and enforce.

We can reduce noise pollution by limiting the external noises. Our train produces 96 dBA (from the horn alone) as it runs through the middle of Newark multiple times a day. We can solve this by purchasing sound reducing materials. Companies, found here, are solely dedicated to reduce noise pollution by creating and installing, “active noise control equipment, industrial sound barriers, or sound reduction materials”. The town of Merriam, Kansas is attempting this by, “using a new type of railroad crossing signal meant to limit noise pollution” . They are beginning the use of “wayside horns” which focus the sound of the horn “straight at the traffic that would be crossing the tracks” believed to make surrounding areas quieter.

By placing barriers on noise output and focusing on methods to reduce the net noise emission, we can remove an environmental stressor without essentially silencing heavily populated areas. I urge those within the Newark, DE area to contact our local city council to join in putting a halt to a bad law.