A bitter dispute between neighbors — both of whom reportedly blast daytime music at the expense of the other, according to Sheriff Rob Snaza — has Lewis County re-examining its noise ordinance, which currently prohibits excessive noise from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
This week, County Commissioner Gary Stamper, who’s fielded calls about the long-standing quarrel, described it as “just a bad neighbor being a jerk.” Snaza said he’d responded to the location multiple times, and although anti-harassment orders have been pursued, one “indignant neighbor” continues to argue that it’s within his rights to blare music, much to the ire of his elderly neighbors.
“He’s clearly aware it’s his right, and we’ve respected his right,” Snaza said. “But we’ve also said ‘do you understand that they’re older individuals? They’re trying to live life, and you’re doing this intentionally.’”
Snaza noted that most individuals comply when asked by deputies to reduce noise, although some “like to push it to the limit.”
“And I guess that’s why we’re here today,” he told commissioners.
While Stamper said county leaders “don’t want to be curmudgeons” by limiting people’s rights, he’s also open to exploring different legal options.
“When we have people that are purposefully playing music just for the sake of not being good neighbors, we need to have some kind of tool in our toolbox to support those people who are … as far as I’m concerned, being harassed,” he said.
One option county officials are considering is adding a malicious intent clause to their existing ordinances, effectively prohibiting loud noises intended as harassment outside the existing 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. ordinance. But there are complications, since intent is difficult to prove.
“Ultimately, at the end of the day, putting that intent element into it is going to make it much more difficult for the sheriff to go out and enforce this,” said Amber Smith, a civil deputy prosecutor for Lewis County.
Snaza also floated the idea of a decibel limit. But the sheriff’s office patrol cars, he noted, aren’t equipped with decibel meters. In years past, Snaza has requested that decibel meters be excluded from the county’s ordinances.
A daytime volume cap could also lead to events getting flagged, such as weddings or Fourth of July celebrations, opening up otherwise non-issue events to legal trouble, he said.
And then there’s the question of “constitutional rights,” Snaza said.
“I think the challenge is everybody has their constitutional rights. And at the same time, it’s being good neighbors,” he said. “And as Commissioner Stamper said, there’s a lot of people moving into our community because of the freedoms that they get to have in Lewis County, different than other communities.”
Lewis County’s current noise ordinance was enacted in 2019 after public testimony of booming music and non-stop motorbike races. The ordinance includes a $50 fine for first-time violators; punishment then escalates to $150 and then a misdemeanor, punishable with a $1,000 fine or up to 90 days in jail.