The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

February 1, 2013

Barking man asks county to address noise issue

By Kim West
kwest@athensnews-courier.com

— Richard Nagel described an ongoing noise dispute with his neighbor and simulated the din of barking coon dogs during a Wednesday work session held by the Limestone County Commission.

The Elkmont resident asked the commissioners to send a resolution to the local legislative delegation that would give the county the authority to enact a noise ordinance.

“I’m not asking for home rule — I’m just asking for a noise ordinance for dogs that bark just to be barking,” said Nagel, who demonstrated his desperation with a sudden, prolonged burst of barking that he said emanates constantly from his neighbor’s property. “My wife and I bought our property, and our money is tied up in it. It’s not right … the reason I’m here is I’m actually desperate.

“It puts me in a situation to take the law in my own hands, which is not an option because I’ll end up in jail, or I can just stay in the house.”

Legal options, petition

Nagel said he has pursued several legal options, including contacting the Sheriff’s Office, Animal Control and local and state legislators. He was one of several local citizens to ask questions during the Legislative Open Forum held Jan. 21 at Athens State University.

He has signed a petition that he said was also signed by seven neighbors asking the neighbor to lower the noise level created by her animals. He said in response to the petition, the neighbor bought another dog.

“I approached her about (the noise), and she said, ‘Well, we live in the county, and dogs are going to bark,’” Nagel said.

The commissioners agreed to consider the issue, and they asked to be provided examples of limited noise ordinances in other counties in the state.

“A noise ordinance would accomplish three things,” he said. “It would create peace in the (Tennessee) Valley; it would generate revenue from court fees and fines; and it would promote Limestone County to potential residents.”

At least four people in the last four years have spoken to the commission about the noise problem for varying reasons, including state Rep. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison), Nagel, a resident who lives along U.S. 72 and another who lives in East Limestone.

During the Jan. 21 forum, Nagel said his neighbor lives within 150 feet of his property and has “four big coonhounds, three Boston heelers and 12 roosters that I have to listen to” from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day.

“I think we need to have legislation to protect the homeowners who purchase homes outside of the city limits, or we (could) expand the encompassing city limits much, much further,” said Nagel to Holtzclaw and state legislators Dan Williams, Arthur Orr and Mac McCutcheon. “For (my wife and I), it’s an ongoing nightmare. What am I to do but take the law into my own hands and risk going to jail, or have legislation passed to protect (county homeowners) from noise?”

No county ordinance

The city of Athens has a noise ordinance passed in 1999, when Williams was mayor. But the ordinance does not extend to county residents because of the lack of home rule outside the city limits.

The Alabama Legislature must pass legislation to give counties the authority to enact laws because the state constitution does not grant counties the same authority to adopt laws as it does for cities.

“This goes back to home rule in Alabama, and a county being able to enact laws,” said Holtzclaw in response to Nagel’s question during the forum. “If the County Commission sent me a resolution that represents the people at this level asking that they be given the authority to implement some sort of noise ordinance, I would certainly consider it.”

Holtzclaw said an example of limited home rule is a law passed a few years ago in Madison County that addressed a problem with vicious dogs in the county.

Home rule shifts much of the responsibility for local government from the state Legislature to local governing bodies, according to uslegal.com.