No, we're not NIMBYs, we're just losing sleep


September 08, 1996|By Norris West

A QUIET VACATION at home, it wasn't. Whether I wanted to or not, wake-up time was 7 a.m. Sharp.

That decision came from the land-clearing company that turned a nature wonderland into literal piles of dirt behind our townhouse community. Deer, foxes, rabbits and other creatures used to romp through a spacious field. The critters have been replaced by mammoth yellow and green machines with CAT emblazoned on their sides.

Men in their earth-moving machines are clearing acres of land for Wal-Mart, at U.S. 29 and 40, and residential development.

To bring these projects to pass, the trucks back up repeatedly through the dirt field. Their incessant beeps punctuating the morning air sounds the alarm that life as we knew it had come to an end.

Throughout this, we are trying hard not to become NIMBY's -- people whose response to development and progress is Not In My Back Yard. We don't know if we're succeeding.

We know the company has a job to perform. But how can it disturb residents at dawn, six days a week? Is there any courtesy or conscience? To our dismay, a county zoning employee informed us that crews are allowed to operate between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

We should have left town for this vacation.

Rocking the house

As if the annoying beeps weren't bad enough, the workers literally rocked our house. When two of the children and I heard the first explosion, we thought it might be an earthquake. We dashed upstairs to make sure the armoire in the living room hadn't fallen to the floor somehow and crushed our middle child.

But child No. 2 was fine. Our attention turned to the dirt field, where a thick, brown cloud of dust had risen. Closer to our home a man in a hard hat bent over a device with gauges and a microphone. He explained to a few curious residents that the device measured noise and vibration, which he assured were both within acceptable levels.

My neighbor with the migraine headache didn't agree.

Sonic boom

As I talked to the worker, about two dozen sparks -- accompanied by a machine-gun rattle -- flashed from a big hill in the distance. An instant later came another sonic boom that made the hill rise and fall like someone fluffing a blanket over a bed.

The man operating the machine said workers had sunk dynamite into holes in the hill to blast through rocks that were too hard for the earth-moving trucks to remove. Several explosions would occur over the course of a week.

We'll miss the sloping hill the way an art lover would miss a Cezanne if someone were to whitewash its canvas to paint dogs playing poker.

Still trying hard -- very hard -- not to be a NIMBY, I accept the beeping and blasting as being vital to progress, if another Wal-Mart can be defined as such. We realize that the serenity we derived from the unspoiled land is buried in a past where no bridge can take us again. But not even non-NIMBYs would welcome a Wal-Mart within walking distance.

We knew the meadows behind our house wouldn't last because it was inevitable that commercial and residential development would come to the prime area. My homeowners association was relieved to win a compromise -- the monster retailer that Sam Walton created originally wanted to build a Wal-Mart and a Sam's Club.

We'll learn to live with Wal-Mart, albeit grudgingly. Just as we've gotten used to the 7 a.m. wake-up calls and a clearer view of U.S. 40 than we ever wanted.

No warning

But it bothers me that dynamite can be detonated near neighborhoods without residents having a clue. People may want to buy ear plugs, leave home or even use their own seismographs to compare notes or strap themselves to the hills in protest.

We thought we should at least have been warned that someone would set off 21 sticks of dynamite a few hundred yards from our living room.

Not necessarily, says the pleasant woman from county Planning and Zoning who kept giving us answers we didn't want to hear. There's nothing on the books to require blasting companies to notify their neighbors when explosions are coming.

The state fire marshal's office, which ensures that companies follow national standards when using explosives, said its local office must be notified before blasting can occur. It says signs must to be posted within 300 feet of the blast site.

Apparently we're just outside that radius, although it looks like we're about a Camden Yards right-field home run away, and therefore do not have to be warned.

The neighbor with the migraine sure has a problem with such an apathy toward the peace and comfort of citizens.

The blasting may be over in our community, but nobody should be disturbed without fair warning. If this is what state law allows, state legislators could use a wake-up call, too.

Norris West is The Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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