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Motorcycle noise riling Afton residents

Afton residents have been voicing concerns about loud motorcycles as riders drive through the city. Submitted photo by Stan Ross.

On sunny weekend afternoons, residents along Afton Boulevard have had to contend with the thundering sound of motorcycle groups, which they say is excessively loud.

Now city leaders are considering new ordinances or upping enforcement in light of ongoing complaints.

City Council member Stan Ross said residents in his ward have observed an increase in loud motorcycles in recent weeks mainly due to construction detours from the city's downtown.

Though not an issue at night, Ross said riders travel up and down Afton Boulevard on weekends and sometimes as frequently as every five to 10 minutes.

"I understand that people like to come out to Afton to drive the river valley," he said. "It's a lot of fun, but I don't understand why it has to be an insane amount of noise."

Any decision, Ross said, would involve balancing the need to serve residents and be fair to visitors, he added.

"We're not anti-motorcycle here in Afton," he said, adding that a number of the residents own motorcycles.

Residents have also complained about riders' speeds, which has added safety concerns and has exacerbated noise issues.

"Some of these high-performance motorcycles are just flying down the road," Ross said. "I swear some of them are going 100 mph past our house."

He speculated that some riders may be modifying their bikes and questioned whether they are street-legal.

Citing public health and welfare, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sets a noise limit for motorcycles at 85 to 95 decibels from 30 feet away. That volume is unsafe for prolonged periods of time without hearing protection, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cities can also set their own noise ordinances.

Before Afton city leaders start passing new ordinances and asking law enforcement to crack down on violators, they said posting warning signs may also be a way to help taper the noise.

But enforcing the noise law isn't always easy.

Deputies would need to use a decibel meter to determine a bike's engine volume from a certain distance. When groups of motorcyclists travel together, isolating which bikes are too loud is difficult.

"That's why they focus on catching speeders," said Ward 1 City Council member Bill Palmquist.

Despite construction crews digging up tons of earth in Afton's Old Village, its residents and business owners have said the area has been quieter without traveling motorcycles.

In the past, the city has also paid the Washington County Sheriff's Office to step up its patrol to catch speeders and noise violators.

Noise caused by motorcycles is nothing new for Palmquist.

"It is absolutely the single biggest complaint I get," he said. "I'd just hope that community kind of starts policing itself," Palmquist said. "I'm not really sure how you do that, though."