Now that the city of Hermiston has taken full ownership of the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center, it will also take on the responsibility of responding to complaints about the facility.
There have been plenty from neighbors, some of whom formed the Hermiston Airport Road Neighborhood Association last year when the county was considering changing the name of the road to make it easier to find EOTEC. They won a partial victory — the county decided to put off the decision until after the road has been improved using transportation package dollars from the state.
Last spring some of the 34 neighbors (representing 17 addresses) also complained during a board of county commissioners meeting about bass-heavy music blasting from the event center until midnight or later during events, about party-goers who drive recklessly or trespass on private property after events break up, and about traffic and dust problems generated by EOTEC.
HARNA president Chris Waine said in the last year response to his complaints has been a mixed bag, with noise still a major concern but dust issues getting better. He said he and neighbor Mariah Murray met with city manager Byron Smith two weeks ago about a request they have made for the city to update its noise ordinance.
Noise has been the main complaint of property owners near the event center. Waine said people on social media have made comments about not being supportive of the fair and rodeo, saying neighbors of the old fairgrounds dealt with similar issues for decades. But he said the neighbors are willing to put up with noise during fair and rodeo week for the sake of supporting those events — it’s the weddings and quinceañeras blasting music until midnight on other weekends that concerns them.
“We’ve been dealing with this for over two years and we’ve still made no progress today from where we were two years ago,” he said.
Waine said the city’s noise ordinance measures dBA, which measures decibel levels for mid-range frequencies, instead of dBC, which measures decibel levels for high and low frequencies. As a result, he said, police can come out and take dBA readings during a party and find they don’t violate the noise ordinance even though neighbors are being kept awake by pounding bass.
Waine wants the city to adopt an ordinance similar to Pendleton’s, which states the operation of sound-producing devices such as radios “between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., so that it is plainly audible at a distance of 50 feet from the building, structure, vehicle, or place in which it is located” is a violation of the nuisance ordinance, as is action to “make, continue, or cause to be made or continued any loud, unnecessary or unusual noise nor any noise, which annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of others, within or over the limits of the city.”
However, he said Smith has so far declined to bring the issue before the city council.
Smith said Tuesday that he hadn’t closed the door on that option, but was still having the city’s attorney research the legal issues surrounding noise ordinances and enforcement before deciding how to move forward with HARNA’s concerns.
One request that has been made in the past is to shut down events at 10 p.m., but Smith said the city believes the earlier deadline would hamper EOTEC’s ability to attract events.
In January the event-management company VenuWorks was hired to run EOTEC’s day-to-day operations. Al Davis now serves as general manager. Smith said as the city partners with VenuWorks on policies and planning, issues like noise control will be part of the conversation. He said trees planted and growing to maturity should help as well.
“We’re going to do the best we can with operating an entertainment facility,” he said. “We try to have as little impact on the neighborhood as possible, but it is a big change for that neighborhood.”
EOTEC has tried to mitigate other complaints neighbors have, including laying down dust abatement chemicals and winter wheat to help with blowing dust. The facility is also not using wells on the property to address neighbors’ concerns that it would exacerbate the problem of their own wells not producing enough water for irrigation during summer months.