Council puts the brakes on ‘jake brake’ ordinance

By Carol Walker


After extensive research by Dani Schade, development services coordinator, and a recommendation by Hill City Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) to approve an ordinance prohibiting unmuffled engine compression brake (jake brake) usage in town, the Hill City Council did not approve the ordinance.

Due to numerous citizen complaints about the noise level of commercial trucks using jake brakes within city limits, Schade was charged with the task of researching the issue and uncovering what other communities have done to control the noise. A document presented to the council said trucks built after Jan. 1, 1988 have a muffler system built in and must not produce sound emissions in excess of 80 dBA, and tampering with the system is prohibited.

State law says an exhaust system and muffler is required on any motor vehicle on the highway. In Rapid City, the use of a dynamic braking device on unmuffled vehicles is prohibited. Lead and Deadwood both handle the ssue under noise ordinances, while New Underwood and Sioux Falls use nuisance ordinances. Pierre elected not to create an ordinance, but rather to contact the trucking community in hopes they would “self-police” and apply peer pressure to keep the noise in check. In Colorado, the motor carriers association and state officials “found the simplest and most effective means to reduce truck noise was to mandate that all trucks with an engine brake are required to have a muffler.”

Bob Baker of Baker Timber Products said he is fine with an ordinance prohibiting unmuffled brake usage but has concerns that it would be a stepping stone to prohibition of the brakes altogether. Officials from Pennington County and the South Dakota Highway Patrol commented that unless an officer is on site to witness the noise it is very difficult to enforce and the cost of defending a ticket would be more than the money collected for the ticket.

“We have a draft ordinance here which we could adopt, but this would be very, very difficult to enforce. The law enforcement officer would have to be there, and then determine if the brake was un-muffled or muffled,” said Brett McMacken, city administrator.

He said, according to the city’s code, violation of this ordinance would be a Class 2 misdemeanor with a $500 fine associated with it. The city attorney would not be involved unless the case was taken to court. Hill City attorney Frank Bettmann said there are a couple of advantages to having an ordinance such as this on the books.

“That would give the right to put up signs at the entrances to the city and it might dissuade some drivers from using loud jake brakes. The sheriff could write a citation, and if we don’t want to pursue it, we can drop it. Also, if a local trucking company has three or four trucks that elicit numerous complaints, there is a civil course of action that can be taken by an individual,” said Bettmann.

Vic Alexander said he has not received one complaint from guests at the Super 8 regarding the noise of trucks. Roger Broer said he hears trucks, but thinks the loudest noises come from the cattle trucks.

This brought up the fact that even if brakes are muffled, there is a wide range of noise levels, depending on the vehicle. Bettmann said the council would have to more clearly define the ordinance language that states “excessive noise” is prohibited. He said that since the city has a noise ordinance on the books, a private citizen could use that to bring a civil case regarding excessive brake noise.

Councilwoman Kathy Skorzewski expressed concern for citizens who were bothered by the brakes and wanted assurance that the noise ordinance could be used.

John Johnson said this is a logging community and we are going to have trucks running through town. He wondered if we are going to try to enforce mufflers during the motorcycle rally.

“I think we might as well hang this next to the Charmin,” said Johnson.

Essentially, that is what the council did as they let a motion to approve die for lack of a second at the first reading of the ordinance on Monday night.

The council was asked to approve a conditional use permit application by Dallas Alexander for a property on 519 Main St. to allow a multiple unit dwelling in an R2 zone (single family dwellings). He was given approval more than a year ago, but construction had to be started within 90 days and completed in a year. Since that did not happen, he reapplied.

P&Z had questions about the exterior siding of the building and the need for additional parking spaces as required by law. Alexander has spoken with two property owners and received verbal agreement to have access to additional parking potential in the back of the building. P&Z recommended approval, and the council did so, requesting Alexander get written approval from neighboring property owners.

Dennis Schrier, public works director, gave Mayor Julie Wickware-Klein a ride around Hill City recently to see all that is going on in the town. She said it was very educational and has asked him to give a quarterly report to the council, which he did on Monday night. He outlined several major projects with which the city is involved, including snow removal and taking care of water leaks. Temperatures fluctuating from -15 degrees to 40 degrees, have made for numerous leaks.

“We are also looking for a new device to take samples at the wastewater treatment plant. We want to find one with not as many issues because the one we have costs $400 each time we need to repair it,” said Schrier.

He said they are also looking for a replacement electric motor at the plant. They will be replacing the fire hydrant on Bishop Mountain Road in the spring, and they are doing a weekly flushing of the hydrant in Allen Gulch.

He said they assisted in three bore samples on the Major Lake Bridge, all in preparation for reconstruction of the bridge in the future.

“The two on the north side are on bedrock, but the one on the south side, the shelf drops off considerably,” said Schrier.

In other business, the electrical drawings for light poles on Main St. were submitted to the city engineer and will be included in the city plans for sidewalk reconstruction and sent to the state. McMacken was told, once they are sent, they should be reviewed and sent back within two weeks.

“Also, we received a letter for approval of a housing study for Hill City. The state will pay $2,500 and we will pay $2,500. It will be done by a company out of Minnesota and will take three to four months,” said McMacken.

The next council meeting is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 12 at 5:30 p.m. at city hall.