Steve Oelrich: I've long fought excessive noise

My bill will encourage quieter watercraft with carrots, not sticks.

Published: Sunday, January 29, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 11:26 p.m.

One might suspect that the Gainesville Sun has developed a severe case of memory loss when it comes to my longtime public record of both words and action when it comes to loud excessive noise and its abatement.

In its Jan. 12 editorial, “The noise lobby,” The Sun accuses me of folding to the interest of the “airboat lobby,” whatever that might be.

Please ask any state legislator if they have ever seen, heard from or can name someone who might be in a so=called “airboat lobby.” Likely, it will result in a stare of disbelief.

My position has been steady and consistent. As Alachua County Sheriff I worked to try to quiet loud motorcycles as a large minority of riders sought to make their bikes loud by removing the mufflers or altering the factory-installed exhaust system. I was very public and vocal about this effort, urging bikers to enjoy their rides but to be a good citizen by keeping the noise down.

This came with some condemnation from the “louder the better” crowd, which proclaimed that the sheriff ought not to be in the business of public tranquility.

On one beautiful spring afternoon I myself went out in uniform and issued nine warning notices to riders operating bikes with no mufflers whatsoever.

As sheriff and as state senator, I have sought relief for citizens from the audio assault from loud automobile stereo systems whose owners insist on keeping their car windows open to share their musical thump noise with everyone within 10 city blocks. Our deputies and police officers issued warnings, then citations, for the more egregious.

As senator, I sponsored the “Anti Boom Box” bill at the behest of the Gainesville Police Department to quiet down the offending loud speaker systems and their owners who boast about spending $10,000 or more to share their “music.”

Now come airboats, I sponsored a demonstration on the courthouse square to demonstrate the difference in noise levels between an airboat with mufflers and one without. Quite a crowd attended, including our county commissioners and several local officials. I worked closely with top officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in an effort to enforce the muffler requirements on all watercraft.

These officials and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission adopted rules to enforce the muffler on airboat rules not previously done. These same officials tell me the overall noise levels emitted by those in compliance is half what it was when I began this project.

I have tried to work with all these parties with the idea that one can enjoy their pastime, but please don't infringe on the health, safety and well-being of fellow citizens. The responsible airboaters, responsible motorcycle rider and the responsible audio enthusiast all understand this.

I will continue to work with responsible airboaters to have them enjoy our waterways and to respect the enjoyment of others to recreate and reside nearby. My bill will encourage quieter watercraft with carrots, not sticks.

Steve Oelrich represents Alachua County in the Florida Senate.

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