By Jordan Gerard

Editor, The Caledonia Argus

In a highly anticipated event, the Houston City Council heard the results of the noise study that could help determine which direction the proposed trail will go. 

The noise study was originally approved this past winter, but was put on hold due to concerns from citizens. 

OHV Acoustics LLC from Random Lake, Wisconsin conducted the test on Tuesday, Sept. 7, at about 3:30 p.m. and tested for about two hours, owner Alexander Bub told the council at its regular meeting on Sept. 13. 

Bub’s career includes an engineering position at Harley Davidson, where he was responsible for ensuring motorcycles met noise standards all over the world. He noted that he was not responsible for customers’ actions once the motorcycles left the factory, adding that when the vehicles left the factory, they were quiet. 

He held that job for 33 years, and in 2009, started his own company that measures sound levels for public and private off-highway vehicles (OHV) and racetracks all over the U.S. He is also a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) certified master trail builder. His equipment is the latest sound level meters available and are certified, he noted.

Though his report to the council is nearly complete (with the need to fill in serial numbers of the sound meters and exact addresses of the testing sites), the preliminary results of the study revealed the noise levels of 2 Jeep Wranglers, a Polaris Ranger 800, John Deere Gator, Honda CRF250X, and 3 “motorcycles” (dirtbikes) featuring one Honda 450 and two Kawasaski 140s were below the decibel limits as defined in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) regulation 7030.0040 test. The test required vehicles to run for one hour. The second hour was spent measuring baseline noise levels with no vehicles passing. 

All test vehicles were measured at a stationary point with the meters positioned 20 inches from the exhaust pipe. This was necessary in order for vehicles to pass the Minnesota DNR’s J1287 test, which qualifies vehicles to be test vehicles. The results from this test measured 50% of the rate of RPM, where the throttle was held at 50% RPM. The L10 measurement documented the 10% highest readings. 

Two test sites were at the property lines closest to the proposed trail. The first site measured at 49 dBA (decibels), with a limit of 60 dBA for the L10 measurement (the level exceeded for 10% of the time). Then it measured at 45.1 dBA for the L50 (the level exceeded 50% of the time), whereas the limit  is 50 dBA. 

The second site was located at the driveway closest to the trail site. The L10 measured at 57.7 dBA, with the limit set at 65 dBA, and the L50 measured at 52.2 dBA, with a limit of 60 dBA. 

Meters were also set up near City Hall, the Nature Center and near a private residence in order to measure the federal noise regulation for Housing and Urban Development for high density residential areas. Bub said those noise levels passed the test. 

He noted several other measures that could be considered when building the trail: buffer zones such as evergreen trees, foliage, parking lots and trail entrances placed far from residences, vehicle noise checks, spot checks and operational hours of the park. 

“The OHV trail system easily passed the noise test that I was asked to do,” Bub told the council and audience.

He said the wind speed was between 5 and 7 mph at the test sites, whereas the limit for wind speed is 11 mph when testing. When questioned about testing at the top of the hill, Bub said he was not required to test at the top of the hill, and noted that the noise would be reduced because of the distance from top to bottom. 

Audience members questioned the position of the test sites, because the actual trail hasn’t been built yet. Bub and club sponsor Karen Umphress said they got as close as possible to the proposed trail system. 

Bub was also questioned on noise levels when OHVs would be “revved” up the hill. 

“Good trail design, in my consideration, means never accelerate straight up the hill,” he explained. “You do climbing turns, make them tight. You might accelerate for a short period of time, then make another turn.” 

He also talked about installing “rolling dips” on straight stretches of trail to avoid erosion. The cost of the noise study was paid by fundraising from sponsor clubs, Umphress said. Out of the 17-18 noise studies Bub has conducted in his company’s history, only one was rejected. 

Bub added he has 35 acres on which he rides OHVs on and said he sees a lot of deer and rabbits and even a bobcat. Occassionally he’ll find turtles on the trails as well, allowing them to pass. 

International Owl Center executive director Karla Bloem asked if Bub was aware beforehand that the actual trail system has not been laid out yet, or built. She said the points of concern were not tested, and said the proposed trails were supposed to be cleared before testing, but it was not. 

Bub said he tested where he was required, and reminded the council about buffer zones and proper trail design. 

Council members Emily Krage and Cheryl Sanden rode along in the test vehicles. Krage said she welcomed questions about the testing day. The council did not take action on the sound study, nor the archaeological study and wetland delineation.

During public comment, Ken Johnston Jr. spoke in favor of the trail being built. Growing up, his family did a lot of trail riding and met “a lot of great people” and “had great memories.”

“I’ve heard a lot of claims that people who trail ride are drunkards, they’re only out to rip up the hillside. I’m up here today to say that’s not the case,” he said. “Most people that would be on the trail system as this one love nature. That’s the reason they’re out there. Myself included.”

He also noted the silent majority of business owners who are in favor of the trail system, especially after Covid. 

“I hope you guys will consider everybody’s point of view ... Think about the people in the community that might have skin in the game,” he concluded.

Council member Cody Mathers included a report from the OHV Exit Committee’s first two meetings. Mathers is the council representative for the committee. So far, the committee has been part of a legal review by the DNR of what costs the city may incur as part of the exit and how land purchases intersect with those costs, the summary explains. The review is still in process. 

It was also reported the $516,523 figure reported earlier this year may not be accurate and a total cost to exit has been questioned by DNR personnel. City Clerk/Administrator Michelle Quinn and Kellie Bruns are working together to find where that number came from. 

Other news

Typical September news and other business before the council included several votes. 

The council approved the fifth pay application for Wapasha Construction on the wastewater treatment plant for $131,779.25. In other discussions with Matt Mohs of Bolton and Menk, the city approved future plans for infrastructure, including work on several city streets. This essentially creates a capital improvement plan. The city will try to align those with the county’s work on County Road 13 and the state’s work on highways 16 and 76. The finances of infrastructure planning will be forwarded to Mike Bubany, in order to incorporate into the city’s budgets. 

The council approved the authorization for Fire Chief Steve Skifton to apply for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) funding for a new fire truck. 

The council also approved an updated limited-use permit for Highway Beautification on highways 76 and 16. The permit is through the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). 

A resident in Houston received a Semcac grant for housing and the City of Houston is the financial sponsor, Quinn explained. The council approved a subordination agreement, allowing the retirement of the first mortgage and replacement with a new mortgage. The city attorney reviewed the agreement and found no concerns. 

The council approved the proposed 2022 budget and levy. The proposed levy increase is nearly 3%, while the budget was set at $553,500. The council will approve the final budget and levy in December, in which they are allowed to decrease the proposed levy amount, but cannot increase it. 

The Truth in Taxation meeting was set for Monday, Dec. 13, at 6 p.m., as part of the regular council meeting time. 

The council approved Houston Nature Center lead John Langheinrich to apply for the Explore Minnesota Program, which allows the city to be part of the state’s tourism advertising campaign, at no cost to the city. The city will need to provide visitor data to the state in order to participate. 

Next meeting

The next meeting of the Houston City Council will be Oct. 11, at 6 p.m. at 111 W. Cedar St.

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