The Routt County Planning Commission decided not to revoke Twentymile Coal Company's permit for a mining fan, but it did request better communication between the mine and the neighbors who have been complaining about the fan's noise.
About 20 residents in Whitewood, Deerwood and other subdivisions south of Steamboat Springs came to Thursday night's Planning Commission meeting to complain about a noise they say can last for days. At other times, such as Thursday morning, when county officials visited the neighborhood, it cannot be heard at all.
The Planning Commission unanimously agreed the Twentymile Coal Company should return to its next meeting, Jan. 20, with a more detailed timeline for mitigating the sound.
"One of the things we have to do is balance the overall public good," Planning Commissioner John Ayer said. "Right now, with the operating size of Peabody in terms of national, regional and local importance, we have to stay the course a little longer, have the time to get the problem solved."
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. When neighbors complained, the company installed a silencer, which lowered the noise by about 10 decibels.
One of the Planning Commission's primary concerns was what the noise sounded like, how often neighbors heard it and whether it could be classified as an offending noise.
On Thursday night, Whitewood resident DeWayne Watson imitated the sound, a low rumbling that some compare to a vacuum cleaner and that Watson said was more like the sound of a 747 jet continuously taxiing. The humming occurs day and night, sometimes for hours and other times for weeks, he said.
"I thought around Thanksgiving we were all going to go crazy," Watson said of the noise.
Whitewood resident Don Walling, who built his home in the subdivision 30 years ago, said he was the first to complain about the previous fan and that the sound has gotten worse. He suggested installing three of the smaller fans to reduce the noise.
"I don't care how much it costs them. I want some peace of mind," Walling said.
County officials have monitored the fan noise five times and almost never heard the noise from within a car. But County Planner John Eastman said, unlike other businesses, the sound does not go away at night.
"That is a large part of the problem. They can hear it all the way through the night. In fact, that is when they can hear it all the more," he said.
Twentymile is not violating any state or county noise regulations, Twentymile Manager of Technical Support Mike Berdine said. Although the company is within the law, Berdine said the company is interested in working with the neighbors and mitigating the noise.
"We also share the residents' concerns. We want the complaints to go away," Berdine said.
He told the Planning Commission the company has hired a consultant to look at ways to mitigate the sound, and the company would proceed as soon as the consultant's recommendations were finished.
The consultant thinks the sound can be reduced in three ways: deflecting the sound in a direction away from the receptor, absorbing the sound as it leaves the silencer, and breaking the path of the sound between the silencer and the receptors.
Even if the company decided what the next best step was by Jan. 1, Berdine said it would take three months to acquire a permit. The company also would have to acquire bids and, in all mitigation scenarios, move a 69KV power line that runs near the silencer.
Last August, the Planning Commission approved a time extension for Twentymile's permit, under the condition that the company mitigate the noise from the fan by cleaning it and installing insulation, steps Twentymile has begun.
The Planning Commission had the option of recommending to Routt County Commissioners to amend or revoke the permit.
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