August 12, 2014

What are all those booms? Fireworks are bothering the ears of some Columbia residents

For some downtown Columbia residents, fireworks’ thunderous booms can be heard from miles away and are becoming more of a nuisance than an enjoyment.

Fireworks displays have long been a tradition at the end of any sporting event, a final hurrah for teams and fans alike.

But for some downtown Columbia residents, these thunderous booms can be heard from miles away and are becoming more of a nuisance than an enjoyment.

“It sounds like loud thunder and is very audible inside of a house,” said Josh McDuffy, a Cottontown neighborhood resident and member of the neighborhood’s board of directors.

At 140 decibels, fireworks are louder than a jet airplane engine at takeoff or a jackhammer, which register at only 130 decibels. These noise levels can be harmful to one’s hearing when exposed to them for more than 30 seconds, according to the American Academy of Audiology.

Some in the Rosewood area have complained about USC’s fireworks when the Gamecocks score a touchdown – however, those fireworks are short-lived. More people have complained about the longer fireworks displays after Columbia Blowfish games – but now, that stadium is being torn down.

McDuffy said he supports the effort to bring minor league baseball to the city and hopes that the teams in the area continue their success. However, he said he is worried about continued violations of the city’s noise-ordinance laws that will come with the building of the new Bull Street stadium.

“I am very concerned about the neighborhood being viable for families with children who are trying to put kids to bed before 10 p.m.,” McDuffy said. “We are hearing amplified explosions and music for three or five months a year.”

McDuffy said he has noted fireworks noise disturbances after 10 p.m. on seven occasions recently.

“Six of these were related to Blowfish games or events at the Capital City Stadium,” McDuffy said. “The seventh was due to a city event at Finlay Park.”

Members of the Columbia City Council Public Safety Committee listened to comments from Jeanne Lisowski, a city attorney, who said there needs to be a revision of the city noise ordinance to outline set parameters for the ordinance.

“There really aren’t any parameters on when it can be done or what a commercial display might include,” Lisowski said.

Lisowski said that there is a general misunderstanding about a time frame as to when fireworks can no longer be set off; the current ordinance does not require one.

However, the city ordinance does limit how many decibels can be created from residential as well as commercial areas. The ordinance says it is unlawful for any object to generate in excess of 65 decibels in a residential area and 79 decibels in a commercial area.

But according to Columbia Police Department officials who enforce noise ordinances at many events, those violations would not be enough to create a case for a criminal charge.

According to Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins, there is no regulation in the Fire Prevention Code that disallows fireworks after a certain time or at a certain decibel level.

“We determine where it’s positioned, whether it is near something that could burn or a wooded area, or if it’s on top of buildings,” Jenkins said. “When you talk about the noise level, it all depends on what kind of display people want to see.”

Lisowski said there will be noise studies conducted for the new Bull Street ballpark, but as surrounding developments are constructed those results are going to vary.

She said she would suggest language to council that could update the city’s noise ordinance with regard to fireworks.

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