Here's the one you call if the racket won't stop Inspector: The noise cop travels the state to investigate disturbances of the peace.

August 02, 1998|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Quiet, please.

Railing against the roar of leaf blowers in California and tinkle of ice cream trucks in New Jersey, suburban America is fed up with noise. And in Maryland, the champion of quiet is Dave Jarinko, state noise cop.

Wearing a uniform and badge and armed with a $10,000 sound sensor that can capture the hum of a swimming pool pump -- or the squawk of a peacock -- the Maryland Department of the Environment inspector travels the state investigating noise complaints that stymie local officials.

"By the time they get to me, they have nowhere else to go," says Jarinko, who handles cases as diverse as firing ranges, dirt bikes, air conditioners and church bells.

Laws against disturbing the peace have been on the books for ages, but there's a new focus on noise, especially in suburban and rural areas where people have moved expecting quiet.

In Baltimore County last year, police logged 10,260 noise complaints, compared with 7,308 noise calls in 1992.

"The awareness of noise is beginning to pick up," says Jarinko, who handles between 150 and 200 cases a year. "Noise today is where secondhand smoke was 10 years ago."

While most cities have noise ordinances, Maryland is one of only 13 states with noise control programs, according to the Noise PollutionClearinghouse, which was formed two years ago in Montpelier, Vt., to provide information on noise issues.

Jarinko says people react with amazement when he introduces himself as the state's noise cop: "People say, 'Get a life' -- until they have a noise problem they can't get addressed."

The 55-year-old Jarinko, who can do a mean imitation of the whine of a dirt bike or the hum of an air conditioner, came out of early retirement about four years ago to join the battle against noise. Taking on noise that local police or zoning officials can't or won't handle, Jarinko travels to every jurisdiction in the state except Montgomery County, which has its own noise program.

Although some of the most common sources of noise complaints -- cars, airplanes, boats and farm equipment -- fall outside his purview, Jarinko has plenty of irritating noises to investigate. He may leave his Cecil County home at 4: 30 a.m. to record the call of peacocks in Anne Arundel County at sunrise. He can sit for hours in the middle of the night measuring the clanging and hums of a factory.

Typical is a recent dispute in rural Harford County where neighbors are complaining about the noise from a dirt bike track a family built for a teen-age son and his friends.

"I don't see where it is bothering anyone," says Debbie Snyder, who sees biking as a wholesome family activity. "I was keeping my son off drugs, off drinking it's the only place where they can arrive that is safe."

But her neighbor, Stan Kollar, complains that the roar of the bikes prevents him from enjoying the tranquillity of his own wooded yard. Before calling Jarinko, Kollar had appealed to local police and zoning officials but got no relief. "Being subjected to that kind of noise is overwhelming for a long period of time," he says.

'Delicate situation'

As is often the case, the feud between the neighbors has been simmering for years.

"By the time we get called, we're walking into a delicate situation," says Michael Sharon, head of the Department of Environment's Technical and Regulatory Services Administration, which oversees the noise program.

Jarinko is trying to mediate, hoping the neighbors will be able to reach an amicable compromise.

"It is so typical," he says. "The generator of the noise is not involved in any evil activity, but the neighbors expect quiet enjoyment of their property."

Having spent 15 years as a councilman and mayor of Charlestown, Jarinko is a diplomatic negotiator.

"I've ridden motorcycles all my life," he tells Snyder. "That's the best dirt bike track I've ever seen."

But while admiring the family's work in creating the track for their son, he knows the law is on the side of the neighbors who complained about the noise.

Under state law, noise reaching a neighboring residential property cannot exceed 65 decibels during the day -- about the level of a normal conversation. It must be below 55 decibels at night.

But decibels don't always measure the irritation level. Noise might go unnoticed in the city even at 70 decibels but be obtrusive in the country at 50 decibels.

'Noise can drive people nuts'

Not surprisingly, most of Jarinko's calls are in suburban and rural areas, where the hum of a swimming pool pump in the middle of the night can be maddening, or where the scream of a peacock at 5 a.m. can ignite tempers.

"Noise can drive people nuts to where they want to kill their neighbors," Jarinko says.

Noise offenders can face fines of $10,000 a day, but most of Jarinko's cases are resolved amicably.

Companies repair faulty machinery. Shooting ranges erect sound walls. Neighbors compromise, and the complaint is dropped.

Offenders might ask for variances that allow them to continue with their noisy activities, but such requests are seldom granted, Jarinko said.

In the more than 500 complaints Jarinko has handled since 1995, only one -- a dispute over barking at a kennel -- went to court, and that was settled before trial.

"Our basic goal is to solve the problem," Jarinko says.

But as suburbia grows, Jarinko expects the number of noise complaints to increase. "As a quality-of-life issue, it's going to be more of an awareness around the country," he says.

A noise complaint can be registered by calling 410-631-3991, or 301-217-2177 in Montgomery County.

Pub Date: 8/02/98

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