Kootenay motorcycle noise: ‘The summer was ruined’

Many residents of the West Kootenay have had enough of loud motorcycles in the summer.

Many residents of the West Kootenay have had enough of loud motorcycles in the summer.

A petition to West Kootenay local governments asking them to lobby the province to do something about noisy motorcycles now has 4,300 signatures.

Art Mason of Mirror Lake collected many of the signatures by going door to door in several communities. “About 90 per cent of the people I approached agreed to sign,” he told the Star.

Meanwhile, a retired police officer from Nelson says the solution is simpler than petitions and legislation.

“The police just need to take a stick, push it up the exhaust pipe, and if it goes all the way up the pipe, it is illegal,” Pat Severyn told the Regional District of Central Kootenay board.

He explained that regulations under BC’s motor vehicle legislation prohibit removing parts from the inside of a muffler, and the stick test can decide that in a few seconds. Severyn suggested regional district representatives should meet directly with the RCMP.

Severyn was at the regional district meeting to support the group of petitioners led by Gloria Lisgo of Silverton, who described their frustration at motorcycle noise in the summer and asked the regional district for a letter of support in the group’s bid to persuade transport minister Todd Stone to enforce or toughen noise laws. Stone has already received the petition, via a recent presentation in the legislature by Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy.

“I talked to most of [the people who signed the petition],” Mason said. “Many of them opened up to me and you have no idea how angry some people are. They are very upset. Sitting out on their decks, they cannot carry on a conversation. They say the summer was ruined and that it is getting worse every year. Some seniors told me they could not wait for winter.”

Lisgo says it’s hard to enjoy her property, which is near the highway.

“It is not constant, but when it happens it shuts everything down,” she told the Star. “It is so noisy you cannot talk, you can barely think. I live on a portion of the highway where you have to slow to 30, and when they speed up again it is like a shot from a cannon.

“There can be over 200 motorcycles a day that pass — someone in Hills counted them one day. Not all are noisy, but we are targetting the noise and speed of some of them. Many are perfectly reasonable.”

In 2011 the BC Association of Chiefs of Police passed a resolution “that regulations be changed to add the [sound test] as the protocol to test motorcycles providing acceptable and standardized evidence of excessive exhaust noise.”

Lisgo said that recommendation was delivered in 2012 to the then-minister of transport but it has not been acted on. Implementation of such legislation would mean police officers would have to carry a decibel meter or take the motorcycle to (currently non-existent) testing stations.

Severyn told the Star that his suggested stick test would be simpler because with a decibel meter, “you would need someone qualified to read it, and judges don’t want to get into all that just over noise.”

Lisgo says the problem might affect real estate values.

“I have friends who have a nice property on the highway for sale. Some people came over who were very interested and then said, ‘Sorry, we can’t take the highway noise.’”

Lisgo said 14 per cent of the people who signed the petition were tourists also bothered by the noise. She said large groups of motorcycles often pass through the communities without stopping, adding nothing to tourist dollars but disturbing those who do stay in the area.

“People from all over the world signed it,” Mason said. “Coming here to such a beautiful area, and to have that racket, it really degrades their visit. Some people said they are not sure if they will come back.”

“About 200 of the people who signed the petition are motorcyclists themselves,” he said.

The regional district board did not decide at the meeting whether to write a letter of support.

The same matter was presented in the legislature in April by opposition MLA Chandra Herbert. In response, transportation minister Todd Stone said, “We’re having a discussion with the chiefs of police and CVSE with the intent of coming out with some recommendations this fall that we would then take to a broader group of stakeholders, which would include the various motorcycle organizations, local governments and so forth to get input on these suggested changes. That could involve policy or regulatory changes in the province but also could involve recommendations relating to educating police forces in different parts of the province on how to properly test for the sound.

“Strategies perhaps could be layered on top of regulatory requirements which are in place and which would stand up in court if the enforcement was done a certain way and if certain strategies were employed. There’s a learning curve, I think, for lots of people here.

“I can say to the member that it certainly is my intent, our ministry’s intent, by this fall to have a set of recommendations and a broader discussion taking place so that perhaps in early 2016 we could actually begin to make some very pragmatic but focused changes — possibly involving policy, regulatory changes and education and awareness — and to really apply a more consistent approach across the province and one that’s going to actually get at the root of the problem.”

The Star contacted the ministry to check on the progress of that plan, but has so far received no reply.