Neighbors and construction company at odds over noise

Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2002

Chris Erickson said that when he turned on his radio and talked on the phone last summer, he heard nothing - nothing, anyway, that he could make out over the symphony of soil separators or the screaming of giant boulders plummeting into other rocks near his trailer home.

Erickson is just one of many residents near Alaway Avenue who are livid over a summer of raucous noise, jarring vibrations and toxic fumes they said Duran Construction Co. produced even after the city issued a stop-work order.

Duran Construction operates a processing and storage site near Eagle's Edge Mobile Home Park and Lemon Creek Manor Trailer Park in the Lemon Creek area. The seasonal company, which has been forbidden by the city to process rock and topsoil since July 12, primarily builds homes, develops subdivisions, and sells topsoil and rock, said co-owner Marciano Duran.

The city alleged owners Josette and Marciano Duran were processing material in a general commercial zone, where processing is prohibited, and were storing construction materials without a permit, said city inspector Dan Garcia.

The Durans appealed the city's order to the Juneau Planning Commission, which heard arguments from the Durans and residents at its meeting Tuesday.

"The bottom line is we want the same consideration as any other subdivision in the City and Borough of Juneau," Shawn Wille, acting president of the Eagle's Edge Homeowners Association, said in a written statement.

"Are we supposed to just put up with this industrial terrorism because we live in Lemon Creek?" he wrote.

Residents argue Duran ran loud, heavy machinery and trucks from 6 a.m. to past 10 p.m. They also claim they could hear the beeping of backing trucks and squeals of soil-sifters, and smell diesel fuel 500 feet from the construction site.

Several parents complained their children were getting sick from diesel fumes from trucks left idling for hours at a time. Neighbors also said vibration and noise from boulders "the size of Volkswagens" dropped from cranes onto other boulders shook their homes.

But the Durans said they have been doing business at the Alaway site since 1989 and had only one complaint from a neighbor. Marciano Duran said his company separates soil only about two weeks out of the year and he denied his crews worked long hours every day.

"My payroll can't handle it," said Duran. "There are times when we might work until 9 p.m. if we're pushing to get a job done, but never later than that."

Duran said he tried to address neighbors' concerns after receiving the city's stop-work order. He said he built a berm of stockpiled materials on the edge of his property nearest the trailer homes to buffer noise. He said he also fixed the soil-sifter to make the machine less noisy.

"We've made efforts to make it better," said Duran. "The police came on my property and said I was trying to hide the sifter with the berm. I couldn't believe it. I was trying to make it better for the residents. I was making an effort."

The Durans' main gripe is with the city, they said.

According to city records, the Community Development Department in 1999 said processing could be considered an accessory to the storage yard because the Durans said they separated topsoil only two weeks out of the year. The department also considered the operation and storage facility "grandfathered," according to a note in city records.

But Community Development Director Dale Pernula said the decision did not come from the department director at the time, Cheryl Easterwood, and so may not be official.

The Planning Commission will have to decide whether the operation should be allowed and whether the company needs a permit to continue using the property as a storage facility. The commission is expected to hear legal arguments and make a decision on the matter Jan. 14.

Melanie Plenda can be reached

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