Noisy fan before planners

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The Routt County Planning Commission tonight will review the permit for a mining fan used by Twentymile Coal Company that has sparked frequent noise complaints from residents.

Routt County Planning Director Caryn Fox said the issue has elicited more complaints during a longer period of time than any other issue she has seen.

It is not a straightforward problem.

"This one's a little trickier because they're meeting the state requirements for sound, so it's more of an annoyance or nuisance than the actual sound level," Fox said. "It's not like we can just shut it down."

Twentymile began operating a large exhaust fan in June 2003. The fan has six times the power of its predecessor and is used to help ventilate underground mine shafts. Neighbors complained, and the company installed a silencer, which lowered the noise by about 10 decibels.

But residents of the Whitewood, Deerwood and other subdivisions south of Steamboat Springs and less than 10 miles from the fans could hear the noise, which has been described as a high-pitched hum that is most annoying late at night and early in the morning.

Last August, the Planning Commission approved a time extension on Twentymile's permit, under the condition that the company mitigate the noise from the fan by cleaning it and installing insulation, steps Twentymile already had begun.

County officials have monitored the fan noise four times in four areas around the Whitewood Subdivision. The sound was almost never heard from within a car. When the monitor was outside the car, sometimes the sound was heard, and other times it was not.

The sound was "clearly" heard in one spot in the early morning of Oct. 14, and in three spots in the early morning of Nov. 16, according to the monitoring.

The Planning Commission will review the permit and could amend or revoke the permit if necessary.

The county has an eight-page list of phone complaints that have been received.

Whitewood resident John Strickland wrote in a letter that he has been forced to buy a white noise sleep machine to drown out the fan noise at night, something he considers "absurd" because he lives eight miles from the mine.

Resident George Wegner, a writer and photojournalist who writes mostly from home, described the noise in his letter. He asks readers to imagine being at home and hearing a tractor-trailer pull up outside and idle its engine.

"You hear the chugging, clatter and rattle of the diesel, idling away, just outside," Wegner writes. "You wait, expecting the driver to pull away, or, at least, to shut off the noisy engine. You wait. It doesn't move away. The sound is still there. ... The noise drones on, all day, and all night."

Also tonight, the Planning Commission will consider amending and renewing a Steamboat Lake Outfitters permit to allow cabin guests and business invitees to use a forest access easement trail. SLO recently sold its snowmobile tour and rental operation to Steamboat Snowmobile Tours.

The Routt County Planning Commission meets at 6 p.m. in the Hearing Room of the Routt County Courthouse Annex, 136 Sixth St.


-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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