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Expert: Oconee Metal noise not public nuisance

COVINGTON -- An outside consulting company told the City Council during a work session Monday evening that noise and vibrations from Oconee Metal Recovery on Washington Street is not significant enough to adversely impact nearby residents, despite their ongoing complaints about noise and damage to their homes.

Citizens living in the area say that since Oconee Metal added a shredder to destroy cars, the noise level has increased to become bothersome, and some even claim that their homes and decks have cracks in them, allegedly from the vibrations coming from the facility.

But a study by Vibra-Tech, a company that specializes in seismic acoustics, determined the vibrations and noise fall within the threshold set by the city's ordinance and aren't severe enough to damage structures.

Consultants with Vibra-Tech measured vibrations in the ground and sound levels over three days in May to reach that conclusion. The measurements were made on Washington Street, Sunset Drive and Bridewell Street on May 10, May 16 and May 18 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The vibrations measured were "below human perception for the most part," said Randy Denman with Vibra-Tech. He added that the vibrations picked up could not cause any type of structural damage regardless of how long they continued.

"In summary, we really saw no perceptible vibrations associated with shredding operations. On Washington Street there was perceptible vibration but not at a level that would cause damage or should be of concern in an industrial setting," he said.

But residents living in the area disagreed. Robert Clay, who said he's lived there for 55 years, said his deck has a crack in it and when he puts a glass of water on the deck, the glass shakes.

"I don't know what kind of machines ya'll have got but I wouldn't give 15 cents for it because those machines don't keep up with my mama's ears. She's 86 and she can hear it," he said.

Another resident, Thomas Jay, argued that the addition of the shredder means the property should no longer be considered light industrial.

"That thing was never vetted. It was never really analyzed what it would do," he said.

Billy Skinner, who is the city's transportation manager, said he was speaking as a private resident who owns property on Laurel Drive, where he can hear the machinery.

"That's an expansion when they brought that piece of machinery and put it in that location. They used to just bring metal and cars and crush cars ... They brought noise into this neighborhood that was quiet. We didn't have that kind of noise until they did all this," he said.

Planning Director Randy Vinson said the shredder was permitted in January 2009 by the former planning director. Several months later, the building permit was approved. Vinson was on staff at that time, and said he investigated and consulted the city attorney to determine whether adding the equipment would constitute an expansion. "We determined they would just be more efficient at doing the exact same thing they'd been doing. They had been cutting up cars with motorized saws," Vinson said.

City Attorney Ed Crudup said that even if the council does not deem the noise and vibrations a public nuisance individual residents could file nuisance complaints in Municipal Court.

Mayor Ronnie Johnston recommended all sides sit down and discuss the matter and at his request, Oconee Metal owner Ed Cloud agreed to stop shredding on Saturdays for the time being. The City Council took no official action on the matter in the regular meeting that followed the work session.