Bayport noise complaints are on their way to mediation
La Porte resident Tony Villarreal says he and his family are awakened frequently by the sounds of containers being loaded and unloaded at the nearby Bayport Container Terminal.
"It frightens you," said Villarreal, a technology worker who works out of his house. "I would compare it to a loud strike of lightning next to your home."
His complaint in November resulted in a citation against the Port of Houston alleging violation of La Porte's noise ordinance — one of nine such citations that headed for mediation Monday on the eve of scheduled municipal court trials.
The trials scheduled for today were canceled, but no date has been set for starting the mediation, said La Porte's prosecuting attorney, Clark Askins.
Villarreal said he hopes the mediation will result in a solution for the community.
The criminal cases mark the latest development in rancor between the Port Authority and some nearby residents.
Based on complaints at separate addresses from May to November, the tickets allege the noise from the container terminal exceeded 58 decibels after 9 p.m. or 65 decibels during the day.
One police officer recorded noises that reached 81.1 decibels.
Villarreal said he began calling police about the noise when he learned the city was issuing citations but that sometimes the sound had quieted by the time police arrived with their decibel-reading devices.
So Villarreal and some of his neighbors chipped in and bought their own sound monitor for $250. Now he measures the noises himself before making a police report — though police also must record a violation before issuing a citation.
In the past, La Porte has issued tickets to violators of its noise ordinance, but most have been for loud parties and events, Askins said.
Port Authority spokeswoman Lisa Ashley said she could not comment about pending litigation but said, "We are sensitive to the concerns of our neighbors."
Residents living near the Bayport terminal have complained about the industrial area since before it opened in 2007.
Last year, the Port Authority proposed paying owners of 411 La Porte and Shoreacres properties for easements permitting operation and maintenance of Bayport facilities.
It offered house owners $40,000 and lot owners $5,000, which they could use for any purpose, including anti-noise measures such as new windows and doors.
As of Jan. 1, the Port Authority had received 275 applications from eligible property owners interested in participating — 78 percent of all owners in the program boundary area.
Once all of these applications are processed, mitigation payments will total about $9 million, according to the Port Authority.
But Villarreal said he didn't accept the offer.
"That set off some red flags for me. I wasn't comfortable with it," said Villarreal, who has built a website — www.knowtheport.org — that details the issues and some of his proposed solutions.
Steven Bootenhoff, a construction manager whose complaint led to another of the citations, said he too declined the money.
He long dreamed of owning a home in this neighborhood where he could fish off the local pier and enjoy the sounds of the wildlife.
"It was really a beautiful place to be. The port has basically destroyed my community," said Bootenhoff, who no longer enjoys evenings on his back porch.
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