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City checks out decibel dilemma

Survey mutes some North Portlanders' noise complaints

City Hall once again is grappling with the question of who speaks for the neighborhoods - and when to respond to complaints from a vocal minority.

This time the issue is noise in North Portland. In response to long-running complaints from some residents about noise, the City Council voted to create a steering committee to study the issue and recommend solutions. When a handful of residents complained about the noise generated at Portland International Raceway, Mayor Tom Potter also ordered that moving the racetrack be studied.

But now a survey reveals that noise is not a big issue to most North Portland residents - including noise generated by PIR.

The contradiction is being revealed as the city looks at reforming the official neighborhood association system. The reform effort was launched by Potter last year. Among other things, it is looking at how much weight the council should give citizens that informally rally around individual issues in their neighborhoods.

The results of the survey will be formally presented tonight at a meeting of the North Portland Noise Reduction Committee. It will begin at 6 p.m. at the Historic Kenton Firehouse, 8105 N. Brandon Ave.

The committee is being overseen by Commissioner Sam Adams, who also has spent time studying noise issues around Portland International Airport.

'I've inherited the noise beat,' said Adams, who lives in North Portland.

Adams believes the city has a responsibility to address such quality of life issues as noise. But, Adams added, the amount of time and money the city spends on a problem should relate to the percentage of people it affects.

'If we can reduce these kinds of problems without spending many resources on them, then by all means we should,' he said. 'But if the solutions are expensive, then knowing how many people are actually impacted by them is important.'

The survey was conducted by Grove Insight from May 30 to June 1, two weeks before the Champ Car races.

A second poll will be conducted later this summer, after North Portland residents have spent more time outside and with their windows open.

'There may be a difference between the 'closed window' and 'open window' season,' Adams said.

Adams explained that the polling is part of an effort by the steering committee to generate hard data on the noise issue. The city also will conduct sound checks over the summer to document decibel readings.

According to the poll, only 27 percent of North Portland residents say noise in their neighborhood concerns them 'a great deal' or 'some.' Most, 73 percent, said 'not too much' or 'not at all.'

Even fewer residents are bothered by noise from PIR. According to the poll, only 18 percent answered 'a great deal' or 'some.' The majority, 79 percent, replied 'not too much' or 'not at all.'

But the poll also found that at least some North Portland residents are bothered by noise from many different sources, including jets landing at the airport, trains from the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern railways, TriMet buses and MAX trains, and industrial and commercial truck traffic on local roads such as North Lombard Street and Columbia Boulevard.

Adams said he is not surprised by the number of sources of noise, explaining that many industries are concentrated in that part of town.

'What it means is, there is no single, simple solution. If we're going to address this issue, we're going to have to understand it and take a series of actions,' he said.

For information about noise reduction efforts, call Maria Thi Mai in Adams' office, 503-823-4045.

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