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Ask Mr. Answer Person: "What are the City of Decorah's ordinances about noise?"

Posted: Wed, Jun 5, 2013 2:18 PM

Jim e-mails Mr. Answer Person: "I have read some of the e-mails you received where your answer was clearly that Decorah has Noise Ordinance laws, even has signs posted when entering the City boundaries. What does this mean?  What are the specific written ordinances and where can I obtain a copy?  Ordinarily in other places I visited noise ordinances restrict such activities to starting no earlier than 8:00 a.m. during the week and usually have very restrictive times for at least one day in the week - usually Sundays.  I consistently have a problem with active construction early in the morning and especially early on the weekend days."

Mr. Answer Person says: "The City of Decorah does not have a noise ordinance as such.  Noise issues are handled as part of the city's "Disturbing the Peace" ordinance.  You can find that ordinance on the city's website, under "City Code."  But here are the relevant sections:

9.28.010 Disturbance of peace.

It is a misdemeanor to make or excite any disturbance of the public peace or quiet of any street, alley, avenue, public park, public or private building or any neighborhood, private person or family, within the city, by loud or unusual noise, by ringing bells, blowing horns or by use of sirens, radios or any type of speaking devices or noise makers or other instruments, squealing tires or by any other device or means whatever.

9.28.030 Disorderly conduct.

It is a misdemeanor to willfully commit any of the following acts:

B. Make loud and raucous noise in the vicinity of any residence, public building or commercial establishment or hospital which causes unreasonable distress to the occupants;

9.28.040 Mufflers.

It is a misdemeanor to operate or drive a motor vehicle that is not equipped with a muffler in good working order and in constant operation to prevent excessive or unusual noise and annoying smoke, or to use a muffler cutout, bypass or similar device.

9.28.050 Keeping of a disorderly house.

No person shall permit or suffer to continue, without taking legal steps to prevent the same, any quarreling, fighting, loud music, loud social gatherings, loud parties and/or loud noises to the disturbance of the neighborhood or general public upon any premises owned by the person or in the person's possession.

OK, you say, this sounds pretty good.  But there is one problem with these ordinances—they do not set a decibel standard.   What consists of a "loud or unusual noise," a "loud and raucous noise," an "excessive or unusual noise" or  "loud noises"?  The ordinances leave this up to the Police Department's discretion—which also makes it more difficult to prove a violation in court, if a ticket is contested.

At Monday night's city committee hearing, City Manager Chad Bird handed out copies of the City of Adel's noise ordinance, which set decibel standards.  He pointed out that there are many differences between Adel and Decorah and he wasn't advocating that Decorah approve the Adel ordinance.

But an ordinance that contains decibel levels is one way not to discriminate between loud noises at Nordic Fest and loud noises at the races.

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