EAST WENATCHEE — As far as the City Council is concerned, groups bickering over noise from an all-night fundraising event need to settle the dispute themselves and leave city government out of it.
The council decided Tuesday to distance itself from a three-month-long squabble between Relay for Life, an annual fundraiser for cancer research, and neighbors complaining about the event’s nighttime noise by setting aside indefinitely any revisions to the city’s 15-year-old noise ordinance.
“It seems to me that this whole thing got out of hand,” said Mayor Steve Lacy. “I wouldn’t be unhappy if we didn’t do anything to change our noise ordinance. I never felt that we were being asked — or should be asked — to resolve that dispute.”
Councilman Tim Detering agreed. He moved to table suggested tweaks to the city’s noise ordinance that followed lengthy — and sometimes heated — public discussion of the Relay issue over the last two months. The council voted unanimously to do so.
“I don’t want to support any changes to this (noise) ordinance that appear to be driven by a single event,” said Detering. “Maybe changes should be made, but not now in this manner.”
Residents of a mobile home park next to Eastmont High School, where the Relay takes place, petitioned the city in October to enforce the existing noise ordinance and essentially muffle the Relay for Life event between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. The 25-space Crest Court Mobile Home Park on Georgia Avenue is home to residents age 55 and over, many of whom are now retired or disabled and discomfited by noise from the all-night event, petitioners have said.
Organizers of Relay for Life pushed back. The national fundraising effort with a local chapter and hundreds of supporters viewed the petition as a threat to curtail, relocate or even terminate the annual event, which has raised locally more than $1.4 million for cancer research in the last 12 years. The event has been held at Eastmont High School’s football field and track for more than 20 years.
Relay leaders said they’ve taken steps in recent years to curb nighttime noise by relocating public address system speakers, turning down the volume and asking participants to lower their voices as activities stretch into the wee hours. Organizers said the event goes all night as a symbol of the fight against cancer. “Cancer never sleeps” is a Relay slogan.
The mobile home park’s petition eventually led to discussions on whether the city’s noise ordinance adequately addressed a wide enough variety of potentially noisy events and situations, such as big community festivals and nighttime construction projects. Revised wording to some ordinance clauses was drafted, but those revisions were tabled by Tuesday’s council vote.
“Years ago, when this ordinance was passed, it didn’t generate much fuss,” said Mayor Lacy. “And it shouldn’t now. To me, it seems time-tested.”
The council action to table ordinance revisions didn’t displease either side of the noise debate.
“I think we’re back to square one,” said Timothy Finnigan, a resident of Crest Court and spokesman for mobile home park residents. “The bottom line here is that we’ll finally need to sit down and communicate with each other, work this thing out. The first thing we bring to the table, I think, is respect for each other and our individual opinions.”
Finnigan said his group offered in September to have a face-to-face discussion with Relay leaders, but that didn’t happen. “The ball’s in their court now,” he said. “I’m hoping we can get together and talk.”
Relay co-chair Michelle Auvil said it was never the organization’s intent to create problems with its neighbors. “Eastmont is simply the best place in our area to hold this event. Lights, bathrooms, parking, accessibility for the elderly and disabled — it’s all there. I think we’re willing to sit down and talk. I’m just hoping something good can come out that discussion.”
This year, remodeling at the high school means the Relay will move to Eastmont Junior High. The event will run from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. June 14-15.
Mike Irwin: 665-1179