A shroud surrounds pile-driving equipment used in the Pearl District last year. Should the city’s noise exemption for pile driving be eliminated, a special permit involving mitigation measures would be required for impact-hammer pile driving.
Photo by Wesley Mahan

A shroud surrounds pile-driving equipment used in the Pearl District last year. Should the city’s noise exemption for pile driving be eliminated, a special permit involving mitigation measures would be required for impact-hammer pile driving. Photo by Wesley Mahan

Allan Classen
Editor & Publisher

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As a City Council candidate, Chloe Eudaly was all for regulation of pile-driving noise last fall. Now that she’s in office, she is in no hurry.

A code amendment to remove an exception that frees impact-hammer pile driving from noise limits has stalled under her watch.

Mary Sipe has headed the public campaign for reform for more than three years and now chairs the Pearl District Neighborhood Association’s noise subcommittee. She was pleased when a little-known council candidate issued a statement in September charging the city with valuing developers over residents in permitting clamorous construction practices near homes and apartments and calling for change.

After Eudaly’s election victory, Sipe was confident she had an ally against the old-school construction method that endures despite the growing acceptance of the much quieter auger-set method.

Eudaly now oversees Office of Neighborhood Involvement, which includes the Noise Control Office, yet there has been no progress on a proposal to remove the pile-driving exemption from decibel limits in the Portland noise code. Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversaw ONI before Eudaly, supported such a code amendment, which was unanimously approved by the Noise Review Board at the September meeting at which Eudaly’s statement was delivered.

Sipe said Eudaly aide David Austin five times postponed meetings with her to talk about the issue. When they finally sat down last month, she was given various reasons for patience, including the need to fully inform the construction industry.

In that there have been 17 public meetings in the past three years on the proposed change, 14 of them attended by industry representatives, Sipe fears the supposed need to share information is a cover for the overly solicitous attitude toward the building industry she has detected throughout the drawn-out consideration of the amendment.

I do have some concerns about ONI Interim Director David Austin’s reasons for delaying this proposal,” she wrote in a memo to her supporters.

Eudaly’s chief policy advisor, Jamey Duhamel told the Examiner, “Our office has decided to bring it forward sometime in the fall or winter when the staff has the time to dedicate to the policy. It does not seem to be a critical time issue as there are no pile-driving projects in the foreseeable future.”

Sipe disagrees, noting that Hoyt Street Properties, which has used the impact hammer on almost all of its Pearl buildings and is a prime critic of the code amendment, has plans to develop Block 23 in the North Pearl.

Noise Control Officer Paul Van Orden is careful about assigning responsibility for the delay.

I am going to forward your bigger programmatic questions to those above me in the chain of command,” Van Orden wrote the Examiner in an email. “I am not the entity to make a call on management-oriented questions of agency leadership or the given direction of the elected officials regarding ONI.”

Appeal withdrawn

Meanwhile, Pearl construction and resultant noise continues.

Sipe filed an appeal of a noise variance granted to Andersen Construction for 10 early morning concrete pours (not pile driving) on Block 20, a Hoyt Street Properties condo building going up on the western edge of The Fields Park. The variance allows work to be done from 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. between July 8 and Oct. 15.

Sipe said the work crew has actually begun working at 5 a.m., “as neighbors were awakened by the sound of the concrete pump truck and workers banging on metal.” When she complained to Van Orden, he advised her to appeal to the City Council, which she did.

However, she withdrew the appeal a week before it was scheduled to be heard, explaining that she did not want to distract from the pile driving issue.

Even without the appeal, longer construction hours are a growing topic.

Van Orden has proposed a series of community meetings to address the clear direction of growing density and traffic concerns translating into more early morning and late night construction activity.

I believe we are at a good point to organize a few citywide panel discussions on night and early morning construction with the Noise Office and our partners, such as a representative from the Bureau of Development Services, the Bureau of Environmental Services, Portland Bureau of Transportation, ODOT and possibly TriMet,” Van Orden wrote in an email to interested persons.

He later clarified: “It would be an opportunity to educate the community in a single meeting on the topic of growing construction noise. The hope would be to give citizens a chance to ask questions about the bigger process of night construction from the noise makers directly. This would allow the community to know and not just blame the issue on noise permits that are at a late stage in the development pattern of our city.”

The Pearl District Neighborhood Association decided to participate in the forum. PDNA’s Livability Committee chair, David Mitchell, however, is not expecting much.

Time and again, we keep losing the battle,” Mitchell told the board, cautioning that the process may be a waste of time in which neighbors “will end up with nothing.”