Judge to hear fireworks noise complaints

  • Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Murrells Inlet magistrate could decide today if weekly Monday night fireworks over the inlet violate the Georgetown County noise ordinance.

The case will be heard by Judge John Benso.

The county’s Sheriff’s Office issued two citations against Kenneth Dean Roberts with Zambelli Fireworks on Aug. 4 and 11, after receiving complaints from three Murrells Inlet residents: Sandra Bundy, Leon Rice and Emily Weinreich.

Those residents are hoping that the weekly fireworks over the Marsh Walk, which last about seven or eight minutes at 9 p.m. on Mondays, will be discontinued next year.

“We’ve had enough and we are trying to pick apart fireworks on Monday nights, to bring them to an end,” Rice said.

“We don’t want them to continue next summer.”

The three residents do not oppose the annual Fourth of July fireworks over the inlet.

“People look forward to celebrating our nation’s birthday and it is for the common good,” said Gary Weinreich who has led the efforts against the weekly fireworks.

“Monday night fireworks are not about the common good of the community. It is about benefiting the seven businesses.”

Seven restaurants on the Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk sponsor the fireworks.

Weinreich and the other residents say the fireworks exceed the maximum noise level, measured in decibels (dB).

“Fireworks are documented in South Carolina literature as some of loudest noise levels, up to 150 dB at the point of launch,” Weinreich said.

“We have measured the noise in residential areas as high as 85 dB. If you’re working in an industrial facility like the steel mill or paper mill, 85 dB is the cutoff for the OSHA requirement to wear ear protection.”

Al Hitchcock, co-owner of Drunken Jack’s restaurant, and Charlie Campbell, owner of Dead Dog Saloon, two of the businesses sponsoring the fireworks, will be at the hearing.

Hitchcock said the thousands of people who come to the Marsh Walk and enjoy the seven or eight minute show each Monday outweigh a few residents who oppose them.

Campbell stated that he would be shocked if the noise ordinance citations are upheld since the fireworks show has a permit.

Rick Tyler, Southeast regional operating manager for Zambelli, agreed.

“The show is legal,” Tyler said. “We have met all the regulations of the county and the state. We look forward to our day in court.”

He added that the fireworks Zambelli uses are not as loud as other fireworks.

“The storm (Monday) night had decibel levels higher than our fireworks,” Tyler said.

According to the Magistrate’s office, if Roberts pleads guilty, Benso will hear from witnesses, evidence will be presented and the judge will decide whether he accepts the guilty plea.

If Roberts pleads not guilty and wants a jury trial, the case will be transferred to Georgetown Judicial Center.

If he pleads not guilty and wants a bench trial, the case will be heard right then and the state has to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

If he is found guilty of violating the county noise ordinance, it is considered a misdemeanor and is punishable by no less than $250, or more than $500, or imprisonment not to exceed 30 days.

Hitchcock said the restaurants have agreed to pay any fines, but he hopes Roberts does not come away from the hearing with a conviction.

Noise ordinance

The noise ordinance states that excessive noise is prohibited.

“It shall be unlawful for any person to willfully make or continue, or cause to be made or continued, or allowed to be made from his/her property, any loud, unnecessary and unusual noise which disturbs the peace and quiet of any person who is not a voluntary listener thereto, or which causes discomfort or annoyance to any person in an unincorporated area of the county,” it states.

For a public space, industrial, commercial (including transient residential accommodations) or agricultural areas the ordinance gives these sound level limits:

• 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., 70 dB.

• 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., 65 dB.

The ordinance also lists relevant factors in determining whether an occurrence constitutes a violation:

• The volume of the noise;

• Whether the nature of the noise is usual or unusual;

• The intensity of the noise;

• The general characteristics of the area where the noise is occurring;

• The time of day or night that the noise is occurring;

• The reasonable expectation of quiet that could be expected by individuals on public or private property where such noise is occurring;

• Any previous request by law enforcement officials or citizens for abatement of any such noise;

• The proximity of the noise to residential sleeping facilities;

• The duration of the noise;

• Whether the noise is recurrent, intermittent or constant.

The ordinance does allow for special event permits.

The case will be heard at 10 a.m. at Murrells Inlet Summary Court, 291 Parkersville Road in Pawleys Island.

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