Berlin To Explore Noise Level Law

BERLIN – Neighbors of noisy businesses in Berlin will get no help from Maryland law, but the town plans to look into adjusting its noise regulations to specify decibel levels.

The state does have a noise statute, unlike the town, which limits decibel levels. Such regulations could be applied to loud operations like the ice plant.

While both the state of Maryland and Worcester County have noise ordinances laying out permitted decibel strengths, neither law is applicable in Berlin.

The Berlin Mayor and Council would need to enact its own law and cannot simply refer to those statutes, town Administrative Director Linda Bambary said.

With some new information in hand, submitted to the town by Berlin resident Geren Mortensen, the town staff and Mayor Tom Cardinale will look into a new Berlin law governing decibel limits.

“What we intend to do is give this to Dave [Gaskill, town attorney] for review,” Bambary said. “We’ll research it.”

Town officials also plant to meet with Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing.

“We’ll take a look at it and see if there is in fact anything to do,” Bambary said.

The town will probably work on a law similar to the county and state laws, she said.

Complaints from residents of Henry’s Mill over the noise of refrigerator trucks at the Kool Ice plant never go away, despite years of sporadic complaints to the town.

Plant owner Tom Collins has reportedly taken some steps to reduce the noise from the trucks and other plant operations in the past.          

However, neighbors are not satisfied with the results, and questions continue to be raised before Berlin Mayor and Council meetings and in the letters pages of local newspapers about the legality of the noise from the industrial ice plant.

Out of concern for his noise-affected neighbors, Mortensen sent information he has gathered in the last few months on county and state noise ordinances to the town after town attorney Gaskill made statements at the Nov. 13 town council meeting that there is not an applicable state ordinance that sets permissible decibel levels.

The Maryland noise statute does define decibel levels, however, and one of the common noise complaints listed under the Maryland law as an example is “truck mounted refrigeration units/parking lot truck noise.”

Gaskill is on vacation and not available for comment.

Worcester County also has a statute delineating decibel levels that is similar to the state’s.

Gaskill said at the last town council meeting that the most appropriate statute to look to is Ocean City’s, which lays out an upper noise ceiling of 65 decibels, 50 feet away from the source.

Berlin’s existing noise statute restricts the hours for construction noise and prohibits vehicle horns except to warn for danger, music loud enough to disturb the peace between midnight and 7 a.m., and “yelling, shouting, hooting whistling or singing…so as to annoy or disturb the quiet, comfort or repose of persons….”

The noise ordinance also includes a general prohibition:

“It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly permit the making, creation or maintenance of loud, unnecessary, unnatural or unusual noises upon any premises owned or possessed by him or under his control,” it reads.

Although this clause would seem to cover situations like the ice plant refrigerator trucks, the town runs into difficulty because there are no decibel limits in the code to apply. The town also has no decibel meter and has yet to purchase one. Downing, instructed to purchase one earlier this fall, is waiting for the change in legislation.

Violations of the existing Berlin noise code are a misdemeanor.