Construction noise confusion costs Lamar County taxpayers

LAMAR COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Confusion about enforcement of Lamar County's noise ordinance on construction sites is now costing taxpayers more than $15,000.

Pasha Abbey was asleep at home on a Thursday night when construction work unexpectedly started behind his house.

"2 o'clock in the morning, all of a sudden it sounded like a war zone outside," he said. "There were like lights popping on - big stadium lights - generators and horns honking and men yelling and trucks running with  no warning. It's like right by my bedroom window, my son's bedroom window. He's 6. It was on a school night. Woke him up, woke everybody up, scared him half to death."

Abbey then called 911 to complain about the noise. The Lamar County Sheriff's Department responded, stopped all construction work, and according to Abbey, told workers they could start again 6 a.m. However, the county's current noise ordinance allows an exception for all construction noise.

"What we have figure out is it may not be real consistent with state law," said Phillip Carlisle, Lamar County Supervisor for district 4. "So we had a complaint. We had the sheriff's department, who had the best interest of the county in mind, that came out and shut down the process. This particular contractor had two subcontractors out that came in from out of town. So it's a lot of money that's lined up, and in this case, that they lost."

Supervisors voted in their meeting Thursday to reimburse both construction companies for the projects that were "inadvertently shut down during a concrete pour on March 23, 2017" for a total of $15,427.64. Since the money is coming from the county's budget, the confusion is costing taxpayers.

"That's ridiculous that we should have to reimburse them, county-wise, for anything because they got the job done," Abbey said. "No traffic was in the way. There were no hold-ups in traffic. They got the job done. They were in and out in 4 1/2 hours."

Carlisle said he isn't sure which county budget the money will come out of, but said it will likely be the general fund. He said deciding whether or not to repay the companies was a hard decision for the board.

"We're conservatives of the taxpayers' money," he said. "I think we have a history of that, but we also, on the other hand, encourage economic development. So it's a sort of catch-22. It's a learning curve for us. Everybody was well-intentioned. The sheriff's department was well-intentioned. The construction company was well-intentioned. Nobody's fault, just an oversight."

Moving forward, Carlisle said board members and county leaders plan to look more closely at state statutes dealing with noise and disturbing the peace to possibly revisit and revise the county's ordinance. He also expects the county to add a permitting process for construction scheduled for odd hours.

"Our ordinance allows for construction, and that's probably what we as a county sort of overlooked in not having a permitting process," Carlisle said. "The permitting process is going to do a lot of things. It's going to actually make us aware of it, and we'll be able to notify people that may live close to that area."

Abbey said being told about the construction ahead of time would have completely prevented the issue, and thinks a permitting process would be beneficial.

"Very helpful," he said. "If we had known ahead of time, we could have made arrangements to do something else (like) maybe go stay in a hotel or with family. It was just the surprise of it that was really bothersome and scary."

Carlisle said, "It's something that we will learn from, and it's something that won't happen again."