TrackRacket Story by Michelle Post
As published in The News of Cumberland County, September 21, 2010
On January 15th 2009, over 50 people braved freezing temperatures to drive to the municipal building in Cedarville, NJ to share their stories and concerns over the noise they experienced from the newly built New Jersey Motorsports Park. This meeting was originally called for Lawrence Township residents as this is where I live. Interestingly, I began getting calls and emails from mostly Millville residents asking if they can attend. TrackRacket was born.
As complaints continued to come in during the first full racing season in 2009, it became clear there was a “noise zone” which stretches for a 3 mile radius around the track. There are over 4,500 homes in the zone that includes the City of Millville, Lawrence, Commercial and Downe Townships with an estimated 11,250 residents. The majority of the impacted residences are in Millville and makes up about a third of its population.
The overall topic of the meeting was that folks were aghast and angry that the amount of noise they experienced in their homes was much more than they were led to believe. During the public meetings held by the City and the developers these concerned homeowners listened to the experts. They attended commissioner meetings and planning board meetings or watched them on TV. Some went to become informed, some went to voice their opposition to something they believed would degrade their quality of life and hurt their property values. At the end of the first season of racing, they now felt misled by the City of Millville and the experts hired by the NJMP.
David Shropshire (Shropshire & Associates, NJMP’s noise expert), under oath at the 11-25-05 Millville Planning Board meeting, stated his projection that noise from the park to the closest residential neighborhood (Porreca Drive) to be “55 decibels without attenuation.” Without attenuation means no walls, berms or buffers. He went on to say that after they add the wall at the Lightbulb Turn (on the north turn of the Lightning Raceway- the closest part of the track to residential properties), residents would see “about a 10 decibels drop.” Do the math, 55-10= 45. The ambient noise level on Porreca Drive is between 35 and 45 (average 40), which includes the airport as a neighbor. So, if Porreca drive residents were to experience noise levels of 55 decibels, along with the addition of the sound wall on the Lightbulb Turn, and since noise diminishes as it travels, folks who live farther away felt safe that the noise would not be a nuisance to them.
Here are more examples of what we were given:
"Shropshire said remedies, such as a sound wall, as are used along most major highways, have not been included in the evaluation because no problems have been anticipated."- Daily Journal 11-30-04- Park Developer answers criticisms= Motorsports plan won’t cause nose problems, attorney says
"Board member Milt Truxton honed in on the noise issue. Truxton quizzed Shropshire repeatedly about the best methods for reducing sound. Shropshire said the best method of handling noise issues is to create distance between the source and the nearest neighborhood. For instance, he said, placing a row of evergreen trees as a buffer would have a minimal effect. The engineer noted the closest residential neighborhood is about 3,500 feet away from the proposed site. That is a 'substantial distance' and the developer did not anticipate any problems, he said. 'This is not to say sound will not travel,' Shropshire said."- Daily Journal 11-30-04 Park Developer answers criticisms= Motorsports plan won’t cause nose problems, attorney says
"The park's sound expert, Dave Shropshire, said during previous public meetings that noise from the park could average 55 decibels. A normal conversation between people averages about 60 decibels."- Daily Journal 7-27-09- Group turns up volume on track
And my personal favorite:
"A proposed city ordinance, set for adoption next week, would set the maximum noise level at that of a telephone dial tone for most races but would exempt a small go-kart track."- Daily Journal 8-11-04- Plan gains momentum in county
Residents are understandably upset when they have levels of noise in the 65 decibels range with peaks at 79 that force them inside with the windows shut on beautiful summer days to escape the noise. For those of us who live farther away from the motorsports park, we never dreamed we would hear the noise when presented with this testimony. After all, they are the experts, and we believed them.
I do not live in Millville. The noise zone extends into Lawrence, Commercial and Downe townships. I live just as close to the NJMP site as those in Millville. Noise knows no artificial boundaries. By siting the NJMP where it is, they have created a nuisance problem for adjacent township/communities. Do they have a right to do that? At the very least, it is inconsiderate and at the worse, irresponsible.
TrackRacket has advocated only for noise abatement that would bring the excessive noise under control. Noise levels we could live with. To allow a continual growth of an industry that adversely affects such a large portion of the anchored tax base without adequate protection is unconscionable. We have heard the economic arguments for what this industry could do for Millville and the County. Should these unproven “benefits” come at the expense of residents living in the noise zone? What "is good" for the local economy doesn’t give the right to adversely affect the quality of life of its citizens. Does this “end” justify the means?
Noise from the NJMP will grow in volume and duration when they begin to complete the remaining approved phases. It would seem that existing housing rights should over-ride someone coming in and building something that creates an intolerable amount of noise pollution that factors into lower property values. But instead of being met with genuine offers to solve the problem, we have been verbally attacked, vilified and made out to be the bad guys. We have been told to move if we don’t like the noise. There are families that have called this area of Millville their home for generations. Residents have enjoyed a certain quality of life in these quiet, stable neighborhoods that their families have toiled years of hard work to afford. Why should they be the ones to move?
If the City and the NJMP would have listened more attentively to resident’s cries for help and reached out to the community as a part of the solution, we would not have had to resort to a lawsuit to protect our rights.
TrackRacket, acting for members of the community who live near the NJMP, filed suit on the City of Millville and the NJMP on December 23, 2009. TrackRacket filed a private and public nuisance claim against the NJMP and an Action in Lieu of Prerogative Writs (forces a government to enforce its laws) claim against the City of Millville. We did not enter into this decision to file a lawsuit lightly, quickly or easily. There were many compelling reasons that finally led to this course of action.
Throughout the winter of 2008 and the entire 2009 racing season, residents called in complaints, voiced their discontent at Commissioner meetings, wrote numerous letters to the editor with hopes that the City would do something about the noise.
City officials kept telling us “that something needs to be done” or “we are looking into it”, or “we are gathering information”. There were no open forums, no public meetings or official communications that would help set the stage to solve the noise problem. There was only one meeting that came about and it was at our request. During this meeting, held in early March of 2009, consisted of three members of TrackRacket, two city commissioners, two city officials, and two NJMP officials. The NJMP official stated that under no circumstances would they erect sound walls, and requiring mufflers is out of the question. However, they said they will look into the Public Address system and see if they can’t do something to redirect the speakers.
The consensus between the City & NJMP officials by the end of this meeting was that they did not believe there was a noise problem.
In May of 2009, just before the elections for City Commission, TrackRacket held its first formal meeting at the Millville Public Library. Contrary to the views of some NJMP supporters, this was not an open public forum, but a formal TrackRacket meeting. Another year and a half has gone by since this meeting and the City never did hold a public forum in a proper location.
In 2004, with the anticipation of the NJMP, Millville City officials wrote a noise ordinance for the town. This ordinance was crafted and adopted years before the first car raced around the NJMP- before anyone knew what the noise would actually sound like in their backyards. The decibel limits set by the State of New Jersey’s Model Noise Ordinance is 65 during the day and 55 at night and exempts motor vehicle racetracks. Millville, however, set its limits at 80 decibels. This level is in violation of the State's Model Noise Ordinance standards and Millville’s ordinance is not approved by the DEP. The City wrote a separate clause for the NJMP stating the noise needs to be 80 decibels for "20 minutes sustained." In my opinion, it is this stipulation that gives the track a lot of leeway so they would never be in violation. The noise levels go up and down as cars shift gears around the turns and travel around the track, making it near impossible for the noise level sustain at 80dBl to be in violation of the ordinance. (See the "Hearing is Believing" page for video demonstrating the absurdity of this ordinance.)
According to this ordinance, it allows the noise in the surrounding communities to be up to 16 times louder than what residents normally experience as sound pressure doubles logarithmically for every 10 decibel increase. Put in another way, noise levels going from 40 (Porreca Drive average) to 80 decibels, the sound would double then double again then double again and double again. In a demonstration presented to the commissioners on December 1, 2009, I demonstrated how loud noise from race cars would have to be in order to be in violation of this ordinance.
During the first full racing season in 2009, the City and the NJMP conducted sound studies. Monitoring locations were chosen around the NJMP. The results of these studies concluded that the NJMP did not violate the City’s noise ordinance. Millville's noise ordinance sets the limit at 80 decibels at the closest residential property. The closest properties average a mile from the NJMP. But many of the monitor locations used by the City and the NJMP were much farther away. Noise diminishes with distance so a reading taken 2 miles away would be hard pressed to be in violation.
When crafting the noise ordinance, the City neglected their nuisance ordinance. Because the noise ordinance did nothing to protect their eroding quality of life, residents began to call the County Health Department to lodge complaints as nuisance calls are traditionally handled by them. Noise is covered under nuisance laws. However, the Health Department was instructed to pass all NJMP nuisance calls to the Millville Police Department. When residents called the police department to lodge a complaint, they were instructed to call a certain number and extension at City Hall. This number was the Construction Office. It was becoming clear that there was no concrete way of lodging a noise or nuisance complaint. Residents were not sure that their complaints were being correctly documented. After navigating through the convoluted manner in which one lodges a nuisance or noise complaint I finally pinpointed the one person charged with documenting the calls, and that is the Zoning Officer, Wayne Careganto. A formal public service announcement by the City was never issued- it was through the hard work and determination of TrackRacket that the proper way to lodge a complaint was reported.
Shortly after our lawsuit was filed, The NJMP filed requests to move the location of the ATV/motocross track from the approved location on the south side of Buckshutem Rd. to the existing facility on the north side. To do so requires approval from the City to change its development plan. This move would put the new track closer to the denser populated residential communities. The City formed a "Noise Committee" comprised originally of one commissioner, two City officials and officials from the NJMP to negotiate a "noise fix" that would enable the NJMP to move forward with their plans. No one from any of the residential communities impacted by the noise was a member of this committee. Later in the game and under pressure from citizens, Commissioner Vanaman, who lives in the zone was brought onboard. Behind closed doors they negotiated and presented an ordinance that allowed the NJMP to address the noise in a "good faith effort." This was not a noise fix. Under pressure from TrackRacket and the community to reject this ordinance, the City tabled it.
Due in part by the city's failure to adequately resolve the noise issues, their failure to enforce an existing ordinance, and to have a meaningful and enforceable noise agreement enacted is the true motives behind our suit and our reasons to continue the fight.
If you live within the noise zone and are not bothered by the noise, consider yourselves fortunate, but why criticize those who are? If you live the outside the zone, from another town, or another state, it is presumptuous to tell people in the affected area how to act and think by demanding us to "deal with it" or move.
For all the residents who are affected by the noise, no matter where you live in the zone, the time to take a stand is now. TrackRacket started the ball moving, but it will take the combined financial support of all of those burdened by the noise to be successful in reducing it. Civil lawsuits are expensive and it is unfair for the financial strain to be shouldered by a few to the betterment of many. When the excessive noise is brought under control, we all win.
MYTH: Sound Studies give a true indication of the noise levels to which residents are subjected.
TRUTH: Sound Studies can be skewed to favor the outcome. A little research into the location and dates of the readings performed by Shropshire (the developer's sound engineer) and the City shows that the vast majority of reading were taken when the wind was either from behind or blowing perpendicular. Noise is carried by the wind. A true reading that is respectful of the residents would always be taken at a location into the wind. The City's noise study (first full season 2009) did a bit better. Of the 160 readings taken, 35 were into the wind. That's 21% of the readings were showing the full picture. The other 125? 52 were taken downwind and 75 with the wind blowing sideways.
MYTH:The planting of trees will help create a buffer from the noise.
TRUTH: The Federal Highway Administration states that "Vegetation is not considered as noise abatement. Vegetation must be a minimum of 100 feet thick, a minimum of 20 feet high, and so dense that it cannot be seen through in order to provide a 5-dBA noise reduction."
MYTH:Racetracks boost local economies
TRUTH: "There's not much going on in Danville VA, or Summit Point WV, or a whole lot of towns that are home to race tracks. There's not much going on near Spa Francorchamps or the Nurburgring for that matter." ScottFW from Northern Virgina on Mx-5 Miata forum. 5-4-11
This forum post was sent to TrackRacket and was one of the more insightful comments received. I'm glad to finally have members of the racing community honestly say that racetracks do not help foster the economic development of a town as it is purported to be. Whenever members of the racing community post a comment on our web site or writes a letter to the editor it is always to the tune of how much a racetrack contributes monetarily to the local community and how it pumps up the economy as if to justify the racetrack's creation of noise. Indeed, this was the driving point from Millville's City Officials during the "sales" pitch.
In reality, how have other towns that are home to racetracks (especially one identical to NJMP) fared? How much prosperity have racetracks brought to these towns?
I've visited Danville, VA where VIR (Virginia International Raceway) is located, in 2009 during the GrandAm racing weekend. The main drag is lined with building after building of deserted storefronts, "For Sale" signs and boarded up windows. The only life in this town is out on the by-pass around the town where all the hotels and chain restaurants that service the VIR patrons were built. The town center is a ghost town.
Virginia International Raceway has been in existence (in its current form) for 12 years. You would think in those 12 years, the seeds of economic growth from the racing industry would have taken hold and flourished in Danville's downtown. A note of interest- one of the principal owners of the NJMP is Harvey Seigel, the owner of VIR.
These photos were taken on the main drag in Danville during the weekend of the big GrandAm race at VIR. Didn't the NJMP and our City Officials tell us that the track was so badly needed in Millville to help with the revitalization? It was what was going to save the downtown, to "save the Arts District."
Curious thing is, some of the Commissioners went on an exploratory "field trip" to VIR prior to the building of the NJMP. It makes you wonder 1) Did they visit the town center to see what positive effects the track had on it? 2) If they didn't, why not? 3) If they did, then why didn't red flags go off in their heads to say, "Hey, this doesn't look like it's working for Danville, why should it work for Millville?"
MYTH: Mr. Shopshire is an expert in noise
TRUTH: Shropshire was a student of Eric Zwerling (President of the Noise Consultancy) for 1 (one) three hour class. We can only suppose that this makes Shropshire an expert and justifies the town officials' overwhelming support of his findings.
TRUTH: Eric Zwerling, president of Noise Consultancy, LLC and Executive Director of Rutgers Noise Technical Assistance Center, was hired to study the noise levels of this area prior to the building of the motorsports park. He stated that the recordings he took near the proposed site were the quietest levels he had ever recorded outside. He told the Millville City Commissioners and the Planning Board that the sound quality and sound levels that would emanate from the track:
"65 decibels at a distance of 3000 feet, would make it very difficult to impossible for residents to enjoy normal outdoor activities."
The commissioners disregarded this very important fact and for that matter, all of Mr. Zwerling's study. Had they listened more attentively, we would have had more attenuation mandated into the building plan of the NJMP.
MYTH:The NJMP will bring jobs to Millville
TRUTH: -Maybe if you enjoy working as a grounds crew, a bartender or a maid at the Villas, but it seems that all the really good jobs are being given to outsiders: Millville just lost another of the higher paying jobs at the NJMP to an out-of-towner. First, it was the General Manager, Kevin Wittman, who commutes from north/central Jersey to NJMP, then it was Reese White, the new Public Relations Director, who was recruited from California, now it is Scot Paape, who hails from Wisconsin. Read all about it.
UPDATE: Kevin Wittman is history. Fired from his position in December, 2009.
UPDATE: Brad Scott is in. 12-15-2009
TRUTH: 69 Decibels of noise at a high pitch is different than 69 decibels at a low pitch. The tonal quality and duration of noise, not just the decibels, are also important.
Here is some information about the four components of sound.
1. Volume- expressed in terms of loud and soft and measured by decibels.
2. Pitch- expressed as high and low.
3. Duration- expressed as long and short and measured in units of time.
4. Quality- expressed in many terms including harsh, smooth, nasal, strident, crackly, buzzing etc.
The powers that be are going to talk only about decibel levels and say they meet state and federal standards and they may be right. But the other three components are what are the most annoying aspects of the track racket.
High pitch sounds like those of a race car tend to annoy more than the low pitch of a truck rumbling by or a plane flying over. We are hearing these sounds for a long duration...many hours a day, seven days a week, eight months a year. The most difficult component of sound to deal with is Quality because one person's roaring annoying race car noise is the beautiful sound of another persons cash register ringing.
The other factor at play at the race track is the Doppler effect and gearing changes in the cars. The Doppler effect creates a pulsating effect and the gearing sends pitch levels through the roof. We have not even heard the motorcycle races yet.
TRUTH: A noise louder than 80dB that lasts for a few minutes is much more tolerable than a 70dB noise that continues ALL DAY
WHEN A SOUND INCREASES BY 10 DECIBELS, THE SUBJECTIVE RESPONSE IS A DOUBLING OF LOUDNESS
45 decibels to 55 decibels = twice as loud
45 decibels to 65 decibels = 4 times as loud
45 decibels to 75 decibels = 8 times as loud
PERCEIVED CHANGE IN LOUDNESS
+ 1 dB - UNNOTICEABLE
+ 3 dB - BARELY PERCEPTIBLE
+ 5 dB - QUITE NOTICEABLE
+10 dB - SOUNDS TWICE AS LOUD
+20 dB - SOUNDS FOUR TIMES AS LOUD
WHEN THE DISTANCE IS DOUBLED FROM A "POINT" SOURCE
(a single sound, like a gun shot) THE SOUND LEVEL DECREASES BY SIX DECIBELS
50 feet = 60 decibels
100 feet = 54 decibels
200 feet = 48 decibels
WHEN THE DISTANCE IS DOUBLED FROM A "LINE" SOURCE (sound emitted in a continuous fashion like motor vehicle traffic) THE SOUND LEVEL DECREASES BY THREE DECIBELS
50 feet = 70 decibels
100 feet = 67 decibels
200 feet = 64 decibels
A DOUBLING OF ENERGY YIELDS AN INCREASE OF THREE DECIBELS (when considering multiple cars on the track at the same time)
Example: 85 decibels + 85 decibels = 88 decibels