A sound monitor at Congress and Free streets is one of 13 placed in the city in response to noise complaints. Staff photo by Randy Billings photo

Portland has installed sound monitors at 13 spots throughout the city in response to complaints about noise, especially during outdoor concerts.

East End residents have complained in recent years about a variety of noise issues ranging from the construction of new buildings to the frequent concerts held outdoors at the Maine State Pier. And Old Port businesses, especially hotels, have complained about late-night noise associated with bars that play loud music on outdoor speakers to attract patrons.

Concerns about noise and the increasing number of concerts at the city-owned pier were the subject of discussions by the City Council in December. While councilors voted unanimously to approve the 2017 concert season, they also indicated they wanted to monitor sound in real time throughout the city and re-examine the city’s noise ordinance to make sure the sound limits were appropriate.

City Hall Communications Director Jessica Grondin said the review of the city’s noise ordinance would not be complete until at least three months of data from the newly installed sound meters is collected and compiled in a report.

“While the impetus for collecting this data derived from noise in the Old Port and concerts, the devices will allow the city to get a baseline for all daily activities that produce noise,” Grondin said in a statement.

The city said the 13 sound monitors were installed two weeks ago at a cost of $50,000. That money was included in the current city budget. Local businesses, including the company that promotes concerts on the Maine State Pier, Waterfront Concerts, were originally expected to contribute an additional $170,000, but Grondin said that estimate assumed the city would have to purchase the equipment, rather than lease it.

Five monitors have been installed in the Old Port, while others have been installed on Peaks Island, Munjoy Hill, Rosemont, East Deering, Morrill’s Corner, North Deering and near the Casco Bay Bridge. A monitor also has been placed on Thompson’s Point, which holds outdoor concerts during the summer and has been known to generate complaints.

CITY NOISE ORDINANCE

Alex Gray, founder of Waterfront Concerts, has been encouraging the city to conduct the study and applauded the move. He said similar devices, monitored by the same company the city is using, Acentech, were used for three years in Bangor. After changes were made to the venue there, Gray said noise complaints are at an all-time low.

“I think the city needs to listen to itself, figure out how loud it is, and to make a more educated decision” about changing its noise ordinance, Gray said.

Casey Gilbert of Portland Downtown, a group of business and property owners, said installing sound monitors was one of the recommendations the group presented to the city last year. Another recommendation was to have the city’s Sound Oversight Committee hold regular meetings, which has been done as well.

“All of these initiatives will bode well for a city that is growing and trying to attract new residents, while remaining unique and vibrant,” Gilbert said.

The city’s noise ordinance prohibits noise levels from exceeding 92 decibels, averaged over 1 minute. That is about the same noise level made by a power lawnmower.

However, according to city records, a reading of 88 decibels on the Maine State Pier is loud enough to generate complaints a mile away on North Street and Waterville Street on Munjoy Hill.

A sound monitor is installed at Fore and Union streets. At least three months of data from the meters will be collected and compiled in a report for use in a review of Portland’s noise ordinance. Staff photo by Christian MilNeil

Although bars with live music or outdoor speakers and concerts at Thompson’s Point contribute to noise issues, the city has been closely tracking complaints at the Maine State Pier, in particular, because it is a city-owned facility.

When asked if the city tracked noise complaints from Thompson’s Point, Grondin could only point to one month’s worth of data, whereas the city has at least two years worth of information for the Maine State Pier.

In July, two concerts at Thompson’s Point generated 22 complaints, whereas three concerts at the Maine State Pier generated 21 complaints.

There had been 14 concerts this year on the Maine State Pier as of Aug. 22. So far, the city has received 72 noise complaints, city records show. That’s well above the 45 complaints lodged in all of last year.

A May 27 concert featuring the Disco Biscuits generated 22 complaints, which were lodged as far away as Northgate, Deering and Rosemont, though a staff note questioned whether those complaints were because of the concert. The same band generated two complaints the evening before. A July 8 concert by a band named 311 generated nine complaints, while Pat Benatar generated seven calls on July 26.

THREE MORE CONCERTS AT PIER

There are only three more concerts scheduled at the Maine State Pier this year, according to the Waterfront Concerts website.

In 2015 and 2016, the concert series approached 30 concerts a year, annually drawing more than 50,000 to the city and infusing $100,000 into municipal coffers through licensing fees.

An analysis by the Portland Press Herald last year revealed that the decibel levels were basically the same in 2016 as they were in 2015, and that the loudest shows in terms of decibel levels didn’t always generate the most complaints.

As of mid-August 2016, the number of complaints received by the police department’s nonemergency dispatch number were down from the 36 received over the same period in 2015. Through 22 shows in 2016, only 14 formal complaints had been filed with police, while additional complaints have been lodged through the city’s website.

By the end of the 2016 season, the number of complaints reached 45, surpassing the 2015 level, according to a city analysis. Most of the complaints were made on Thursday nights. Concerts during August and September produced 17 complaints and 13 complaints, respectively.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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