The Franklin County Area Plan Commission reviewed a noise complaint concerning the operations of Lecher's Sawmill on Moorman Road at its April 14 meeting.

APC president Ruthie Mannix asked adjacent property owner Marty Brunner, who first brought the issue to the attention of the APC last year, to speak first. Brunner explained he purchased his property to the north of Lecher's nearly 30 years ago when the sawmill was located across the road from its current location inside a building. The operation has since expanded and moved to a location due south of Brunner's home. He noted the sawmill is classified as an agricultural operation despite the facility's heavy truck traffic bringing logs and sometimes milled lumber to the location and hauling away pallets produced at the site, although Brunner's primary concern is the noise created when the sawmill brings in a tub grinder to turn waste material into mulch, creating significant noise pollution.

“The law says we have the right of quiet enjoyment of our property, and we don't have it,” said Brunner.

Brunner invoked APC members Robert Braun, Ed Derickson and Rob Seig, who had all visited his home last month while Lecher's was grinding mulch and attested to the loud noise produced.

“During a month, or two months, of the year where you can't sit in my kitchen and speak normally to somebody in a conversation when that grinding is going on, it's just not sensible. The ordinance of the county says there is a nuisance law about noise, well, if this isn't a nuisance, I've never heard one before,” pleaded Brunner.

Local attorney Amber Orozco spoke next on behalf of Lecher's. Orozco explained the sawmill has been operating since 1988 and employs several people; she warned shutting down Lecher's Sawmill will lose a lot of jobs.
Lecher's grinds their waste material into mulch once per year. Orozco estimated the mill grinds mulch about 80 hours per year during business hours. The first noise complaint came in last year, and since then, they have gone to a larger grinder to reduce the time spent grinding. A contractor comes onsite to grind mulch as trucking the waste material offsite is not economically viable. Orozco noted the county's zoning code does not list a decibel limit for the secondary agriculture zone in which the mill is located.

“We've done our best to mitigate as much as we can and still meet the Indiana State Department of Agriculture's goals for businesses like ours. We're happy to entertain other things if you think there are ways we can do it and still keep our business. But to outsource this stuff, to take it away, is cost prohibitive to us. Probably putting up a sound screen that would be effective now, would probably be cost prohibitive... What we're dealing with here guys, we've got one neighbor complaining in 10 years. You can take care of all these people back here [referencing audience members in support of Lecher's], and the Lecher's business and the rest of Franklin County by maintaining the business and the jobs that are available, or you can placate one citizen,” stated Orozco.

Mannix noted Orozco's claim a sound barrier would be cost prohibitive and asked if they had received estimates. Orozco replied she did not have pricing available. Frank Lecher, part owner of Lecher's, argued the sound would likely go over the top of a sound barrier. Mannix asked if he had investigated sound barriers; he replied he had not.

Seig noted there are approximately 800 feet of trees and vegetation between the grinding site and Brunner's home and suggested if they ground during the summer, it would likely attenuate the sound. Braun agreed with the attenuation of sound, but noted the summer is when people are more likely to spend time outside. Braun also suggested grinding in the winter when the matter was first discussed last July.

Braun added, “I'm the guy that lives a half mile away and I think that is was quieter this year than it's been before and I think it's been a shorter duration … I was at Marty's house and I think at Marty's house, it's pretty objectionable.”

Brunner returned to the podium and noted he first reported this to the county 10 years ago, having discussed it with former area planning executive director Larry Franzman and commissioner Tom Linkel, both of whom had visited the site.

Mannix suggested Lecher's investigate the installation of a sound barrier at the grinding site: “It'd be interesting to know how much that would cost.”
“I think we'd be happy to investigate, but we would want a little more direction on what do you guys think would work,” replied Orozco. “How high is this thing going to have to be?”

Mannix replied someone who constructs sound barriers would have more information on specifications. Braun suggested contacting some sound engineers to explain the situation and assess the site. Derickson asked Lecher's if the contractor is required to mitigate noise levels at any jobsites; Lecher's did not know. Brunner asked the APC to contact the grinding contractor directly to inquire about noise abatement.

Mannix again asked Lecher's to investigate sound abatement options and notify Brunner before grinding again. Derickson suggested Lecher's discuss the matter with their grinding contractor. Orozco replied they discussed the matter last year, which resulted in the contractor upgrading their grinder to the quickest, quietest grinder for the most recent grinding session.

“We do want to be good neighbors, we want this to work, but we also have a business that employs these people, and we can't afford to lose jobs in Franklin County,” replied Orozco.

“What has the employment of these people got to do with me living a sensible life? It doesn't have anything to do with it at all. It has nothing to do with the case. It has nothing to do with anything. The whole problem here is they didn't come, they didn't ask me about the noise, they didn't come over and listen to it, they didn't do anything but try and make another buck,” replied Brunner.

Braun made a motion to continue the discussion; Mannix asked if he wished to continue until the next meeting or the next month. Braun replied when they have information to present. Orozco offered to forward any information to the APC and Mannix and Braun agreed.

Derickson deliberately reviewed changes made by the APC to the county's proposed alternative energy zoning amendment at the APC's March 10 meeting and sent to county commissioners. Any proposed commercial wind energy system must have a 100 foot setback from a cemetery, any wind energy system must have insurance coverage of $10 million per occurrence, complete a liability study to determine the total coverage needed and provide a hold-harmless agreement with all non-participating adjacent property owners. All land must be scanned with ground penetrating radar to locate unknown drainage tiles, utilities and hidden structures. If a solar installation encompasses a residence or public building, an additional 50 feet of setback is required. Solar energy must have a minimum setback of 100 feet from a cemetery. Any commercial solar energy system must hold $10 million per occurrence, complete a liability study to determine the total coverage needed and provide a hold-harmless agreement with all non-participating adjacent property owners.

Land developed for solar energy must be scanned with ground penetrating radar to locate unknown drainage tiles, utilities and hidden structures. Natural vegetative ground cover must be maintained under and around solar arrays in consultation with the United States Department of Agriculture biologist and local water conservation district.