2014-08-21 / Front Page

Noise Issues Continue

By Tom Walsh

Paul O’Reilly, president and chief executive officer of the Newport Harbor Corporation, like any successful business executive, knows how to solve problems.

But this summer’s complaints from neighbors of the waterfront Newport Yachting Center, that music from the center’s Summer Concert Series has been too loud, have so far mostly eluded resolution.

“We’re still working through this right now,” O’Reilly told Newport This Week in an interview on Wednesday, Aug. 20. “If I had a solution, I would tell you.”

After The Beach Boys concert on the night of Saturday, Aug. 16 generated the center’s ninth noise violation of the 2014 summer season, O’Reilly was still without a strategy for bringing in the high-profile talent the summer concerts thrive on without running afoul of Newport’s 75 decibel limit.

National performers such as The Beach Boys, Ziggy Marley and KC and the Sunshine Band–all part of this summer’s concert series lineup– routinely hit 90 to 95 decibels during their concerts. “We could go with 85 decibels,” O’Reilly said. “But that would be on the borderline some nights.”

Newport Zoning officials measured 76.6 decibels with The Beach Boys. O’Reilly said it would be all but impossible for a person with normal hearing to discern the difference between 76.6 decibels and the 75 decibel limit in Newport. He also maintained that other factors besides the concert bands–wind, for instance, and other bands playing at nearby venues such as bars and restaurants–contribute to recorded noise levels.

O’Reilly said the Yachting Center, which is part of the Newport Harbor Corporation, last year asked the City Council for a variance that would enable those bands that exceed the 75 decibel limit to do so without violating the limit. However, he said, the request was withdrawn “because we did not think that it could succeed based on the comments of council members.”

In an effort to minimize concert volume, O’Reilly said, sound buffers have been installed along the side and rear of the concert tent. “With that, we have reduced the amount of sound,” he said. “But we will not be able to comply with the 75 decibel limit and run a concert series.”

O’Reilly said that experts engaged by the Newport Yachting Center to help solve the problem have suggested that adding further sound buffers coupled with an 85 decibel limit might work.

“But that’s still low,” O’Reilly said.

He said the concert industry expectation of concert sound volume is pre-set at levels higher than those allowed by the City of Newport. He said most bands are unwilling to turn down the volume on their work. He added that getting national bands to appear in Newport could eventually become impossible if the lower decibel limit continues to be enforced.

O’Reilly said the Yachting Center has tried to be reasonable with those who live near the concert venue. “I believe that closing concerts by 9 p.m. during the week and at 10 p.m. on weekends is very reasonable for a waterfront district,” he said.

O’Reilly said he did not want to sound as though he was criticizing the city for this situation. “I don’t think we’ve been treated unfairly by the city,” he said. “The police, fire and zoning officials are just doing their jobs. Ultimately, the political will of the community will decide this.”

The Newport Harbor Corporation chief did not seem ready to abandon the effort to resolve this issue.

“There’s no question that this is a difficult issue,” he said. “We’re doing our best to have a solution that in the long run will work. But we don’t yet have that solution. We’ll take a couple more months to put our heads together and figure something out. But at some point Newport must decide whether a series like this is important enough to hold on to.”

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