OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee County Commission meeting on Thursday, Jan. 12, established sound limits for the March Okeechobee Music Festival.
The commissioners set levels for 10 a.m. to midnight, and another set of standards from midnight to 10 a.m.
The county retained an acoustical consultant, RML Acoustics, LLC, to provide guidance in developing acoustical criteria for the music festival. RML Acoustics took readings of ambient sound levels at several sites around the county in late October and early November.
The consultant then established guidelines for sound levels that would be reasonable for the area during the festival throughout the day and overnight.
According to the staff report, those guidelines take into account the relatively low existing ambient sound levels in a rural area.
Rob M. Likendey of RML Acoustics said they measured the ambient sound — or background noise — at locations where there were complaints from the 2016 festival, ranging from across the street from the festival site to about 6 miles away.
County Planning Director Bill Royce said they proposed one set of sound levels before midnight and a lower set after midnight for the music festival.
“We all understand a level must be set,” he said. “We also have to see how they are doing it.”
Festival organizers have already made some changes such as reorienting the stages to send more of the sound north of the property, which is pasture.
He said controlling the volume of sound leaving the property will be a learning process.
“No matter what we do, there is going to be more to do to prepare us for the next one,” he said.
Commissioner David Hazellief said most of the complaints last year were about the heavy bass.
“I am for the festival. I want them to have a good time. But the bass is the problem,” he said.
“I live 5 miles from the festival site as the crow flies. If I went outside at night, I could hear the bass. If I went inside, I heard nothing,” said Commissioner Bradley Goodbread.
Commissioner Bryant Culpepper said the bass is what the younger fans want.
“If you hear kids ride around, that’s what you feel, the bass,” he said. “People who come to these concerts, that’s an essential part of why they go.”
He added that he lives near the Kissimmee River and he deals with noise from gunfire and airboats.
He said he does not want to put so many restrictions on the music fest that it forces the event to go away.
“I don’t want to regulate it out of existence but I do think we need to look out for everybody,” agreed Commissioner Goodbread.
‘This is a work in progress,” said Commissioner Kelly Owens.
“The complaints were listened to. They were heard.
“We understand sound has been an issue,” said Soundslinger CEO Kevin Collinsworth. “We want to be good neighbors and we want to do the right thing.”
He said there are many factors, including weather conditions, that can affect how sound carries.
For the 2017, they will set up a Sound SWAT team of two deputies with a sound consultant to respond to sound complaints.
If there is a complaint, the Sound SWAT team will go to the property, measure the sound, and if necessary talk to the audio folks to make adjustments at the stage.
He said they will have an 800 number hot line for sound complaints. They will use sound mitigation technology to steer and shape the sound to limit the level that will affect nearby homes.
“We know the majority of our complaints were south and west,” he said. We are working to reorient the sound northerly.”
The commissioners agreed to allow the festivals a 120-minute exception to the maximum sound levels before midnight each day. Mr. Collinsworth explained that some music artists use louder bass than others, and the sound levels allowed are in their contracts which were signed when they were booked.
One they know was a problem last year — BassNectar — has been scheduled for the performance to end before 11 p.m.
He added that they need some flexibility in their schedules because sometimes there are weather delays, traffic delays or other factors which can affect the performance schedules.
“All we are asking is for common sense to prevail,” he said,
“To make the accommodations they have made, to be willing to collect data, to set up a way to handle complaints, I feel like they are making every effort to mitigate the complaints we have had,” said Commissioner Owens.
Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at email@example.com