Noise Pollution

Noise pollution is an intrusion into the commons. When boom boxes, leaf blowers, and jet ski’s emit their sounds, they degrade the quality of the environment for everyone else. Many communities are fighting back, asserting their right to responsibly control excessive noise in public spaces.

Noise ordinances come in many shapes. Some are source-specific, limiting or banning the use of certain devices. Others are general, covering all potential noise sources.

Personal watercraft – commonly known as jet-skis – are a common source of noise pollution near water. They can reach speeds up to 60 mph and emit noise up to 115 decibels. Noise alone is not the sole reason communities have sought to ban them. While jet skis comprise 5 percent of watercraft, the small boats are involved in 37% of vessel accidents, according to U.S. Coast Guard statistics. Pollution emissions are another problem: most water scooters use two-stroke carburated engines, which emit 20 percent to 40 percent of their fuel unburned, including MTBE.

The first ban on jet skis occured in Washington state’s San Juan County in 1996. Since then, many towns have enacted bans or limits to using this type of watercraft.

At the state level, Maine and Vermont have passed bills banning personal watercraft on selected lakes. Maine, New York and Minnesota also have enabling legislation that allow waterfront municipalities to petition the state for jet ski restrictions on local waters. New Jersey has proposed but has not passed a similar law.

Nationally,in April 2000 the National Park Service issued a rule banning jet skis and other personal watercraft from all but 21 of its 87 parks and recreation areas where motorized boats are allowed. The ban will be extended to all national parks on September 15, 2002.

Internationally,the Norwegian government voted for a nationwide ban on the use of”wetbikes”, prompted by ecological and noise concerns. In Norway, local communities will have to apply for a licence to establish a wetbike zone. The Irish government is also passing legislation that will enable local authorities to make bylaws on zoning for wetbikes and power boats.

More Information:

Jet-ski and Personal Watercraft Ban – San Juan County, WA

The first limits on personal watercraft came in 1996, when Washington state's San Juan County moved to ban their use in and around the San Juan Islands. The ban was challenged by the watercraft industry, who feared such bans could become contagious. The ban was overruled by a lower court in the fall of1996, but county officials, encouraged by jet-ski critics nationwide, took the issue to the Washington Supreme Court. The local ban was upheld in July 1998 in a 7-2 decision (see decision John Weden II et al. vs. San Juan County et al)… Read More

Jet-Ski and Personal Watercraft Regulations – New York

In 1999 New York adopted legislation to enable municipalities to regulate the use of jet skis and other personal watercraft on local waters. Using the public hearing process, any town in the state can pass an ordinance to prohibit the use of jet skis. All bans must not prevent access to federally maintained and designated waterways.… Read More

Jet-Ski and Personal Watercraft Restrictions – San Francisco

In 1998 San Francisco County adopted an ordinance aimed at reducing conflicts and adverse impacts in coastal waters. Central to the ordinance is the restriction of the use of personal watercraft, more commonly known as jet-skis. Under the law jet skis are banned within 1200 feet of the entire shoreline of San Francisco County - known as a "special use area"- including the east part of Angel Island and all of Alcatraz and Treasure Islands. An "access corridor" allows jet skis to launch from the public boat ramp and travel out to Bay waters beyond the specialuse area. The ordinance also includes a provision which allows citizens to file a private nuisance suit if harassed by jet ski activity.… Read More

Noise Pollution – Amplified Noise Ordinances

Many communities have enacted laws defining maximum levels for amplified noise (similar to muffler laws for autos). City governments can amend the community noise ordinance to add these provisions, enact a whole new ordinance that includes these provisions, or enact this law to stand alone. The only real difference is the distance from the the noise source from which a violation is determined, which varies between 25 and 150 feet in most ordinances.… Read More

Noise Pollution Ordinance – Chapel Hill, NC

The Noise Control Code for Chapel Hill sets maximum permitted sound levels for certain times and days of the week. As of March 2011, the town has a table of sound limits for various locations.  For residential settings, acceptablenoise level during the day is set at 50 decibels (about the volume of conversational speech heard from a foot away), and 45 decibels at night(the equivalent of the noise in an average office). While many cities have noise caps, Chapel Hill's code is stringent enough that it will actually restrict noise. The code also enacts a range of specific noise-making prohibitions and exceptions, establishes permits to exceed limits, and stipulates penalties for violations. … Read More
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Lisa Gonzalez

Lisa Gonzalez researched and reported on telecommunications and municipal networks' impact on life at the local level. Lisa also wrote for and produced ILSR's Broadband Bits podcast.