by Donna Alvis-Banks

The Roanoke Times

January 8, 2008

The town has its own “Noisy Dozen Award” from Noise Free America.

Christiansburg has won its first award of 2008.

Before you fire up the noisemakers, however, consider the source.

Noise Free America, a national lobbying group opposed to noise pollution, conferred its first “Noisy Dozen Award” of 2008 to Christiansburg, calling the town one of the 12 noisiest places in America “for having a vague and unenforceable noise ordinance, with minimal penalties.” The group presents 12 awards — one each month — throughout the year.

“I’m not sure that we are overly excited,” Mayor Dick Ballengee said of the distinction. “I was not aware that there was such an award.”

Ted Rueter, founder of the Wisconsin-based Noise Free America, said his organization includes 50 local chapters in 25 states, made up of anti-noise activists.

He said he modeled the Noisy Dozen Award after the Golden Fleece Award, created by the late William Proxmire, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, as a tongue-in-cheek critique of government spending.

After appearing on TV shows such as ABC’s “20/20” and getting some notice in several newspapers around the country, Rueter said he has started to see results from the award. Past “winners” include Pioneer Electronics, Ford Motor Co. and Republican congressman Darrell Issa of California. Issa was selected after making millions of dollars as the owner of Directed Electronics, producer of Viper car alarms.

Last year’s recipients included Washington, D.C.; Warren, Ohio; and Fort Worth, Texas.

“We’ve had people tell us the award has actually helped reduce noise in their town,” Rueter said, admitting that he has never visited Christiansburg but chose it because of the town council’s decision not to adopt a proposed noise ordinance in November.

“I’ve never been to Christiansburg,” the 51-year-old Rueter said, “but Mike Smith has. He’s one of the strongest anti-noise activists in the country.”

A Christiansburg native who now lives in Pulaski, Smith nominated Christiansburg after reading newspaper reports and editorials regarding the town’s decision to scrap a noise ordinance that would have outlined specific times for certain noises. The proposal came from resident Terry Ellen Carter in June. She and a few other residents told the council that construction noises in the Windmill Ridge subdivision, as well as other types of noise, needed to be addressed.

The council charged the Christiansburg Planning Commission with the task of drafting an ordinance. The commission did just that, spending several months on the project, but then recommended that the council not pursue the ordinance. Commission members said they thought noise violations were already addressed in the town code through nuisance laws.

Smith, a 46-year-old nurse, fought his own battle with noise several years ago in Pulaski, mainly over the number of cars rolling around with loud stereos blaring.

“We fought a battle to get the police department to enforce the existing noise ordinance,” he said. “We really quieted things down over here, but it took a lot of work,” he added, explaining that he had to rally neighborhood watch groups, organize a letter-writing campaign and persuade officials to post signs and take other steps to enforce the ordinance before he saw results.

Christiansburg, he said, has its own problems.

“We used to shop in Christiansburg, but not anymore. Christiansburg is a hopeless case as far as noise. Law enforcement is not doing anything about it. It’s just shattering people’s nerves. Here’s people in Christiansburg trying to be proactive and getting absolutely nowhere.”

Smith said he nominated Christiansburg for the Noisy Dozen Award after Pulaski received the award in 2003, based on his submission.

“When the town manager, mayor and council were given a copy of that award, they started listening,” he said.

Rueter said Noise Free America grew out of a teaching experiment seven years ago.

“I was teaching at UCLA,” the 51-year-old political science professor said. “I found UCLA to be the noisiest campus I’d ever been at and Los Angeles to be the noisiest city.”

Rueter said he organized a team of 14 students to launch an effort aimed at calling attention to the negative effects of excessive noise, particularly car alarms, leaf blowers and souped-up motorcycles. The national organization grew from that.

“The world did not used to be so noisy. Leaf blowers were not invented until 1970,” he noted. “Noise is evidence of a very aggressive, hostile, rude society.”

But public officials in Christiansburg certainly don’t see their town that way.

Town Manager Lance Terpenny said he has not had any complaints from residents regarding problems with noise since the proposed ordinance was dropped.

“Not only have I not had any more complaints, I never had any complaints,” he said. “Except for the original complaint.”

Terpenny’s reaction to news of the Noisy Dozen Award was unenthusiastic.

“My reaction would be something that you can’t print,” he said. “Some people have too much time on their hands.”

Ballengee said he had received no complaints, either, but that town leaders were still attentive to the matter.

“We are still monitoring the issue,” he said. “It may come back up at a later date.”

Carter, the woman who wanted the town to adopt an ordinance spelling out noise regulations, was as surprised by the award announcement as anyone.

“No kidding?” she said. “Oh, that’s funny. I’ve heard of Noise Free America, but I didn’t know they had the award. I’m thrilled.

“It’s been great that the issue has not gone away,” she added. “I don’t think the town council will forget about me anytime soon. I wish I could take credit for [the award], but I can’t.”

Bob Poff, a member of the planning commission, was amused by the award but not swayed by it.

“It’s funny that there are organizations like that around,” he said. “I feel like the council made the right decision. I just don’t think we have a big problem with noise.”

But Christiansburg Councilman Brad Stipes was not amused when he was told of the award.

He was speechless.

“I have no comment,” he said. “Absolutely none.”