Residents soon able to access noise impacts via Google Earth

Over the next few months the Northeast Capital Industrial Association (NCIA) will take their already innovative Regional Noise Management Plan and begin offering its data to the public through Google Earth.

The NCIA has been working with partners in the Industrial Heartland for the past number of years to develop a comprehensive noise management plan based on noise levels from industry facilities, road traffic and rail traffic.

“The whole concept is managing noise on a regional basis, much like we manage our air and water,” said Laurie Danielson, executive director of NCIA. “The plan is the first of its kind in North America and it was a really challenging thing to do.”

Residents will soon have a way to view the data that has been collected and how it relates to the noise levels at their residences.

“The whole intent of the Google Earth integration is for anyone who lives in the Heartland to identify where they live and if they are within five kilometers of a facility, they can tell what the regional noise level is,” Danielson said.

There will be different levels to the map as well. Not only will residents be able to see their property’s proximity and noise levels from nearby industrial facilities, they will also be able to see the impacts from nearby main rail lines and highways.

Danielson said this information has been difficult to obtain from the railways, but was needed to get an accurate picture of the region’s noise. He also noted that despite all of the industry in the area, it is likely that transportation links will cause more noise for residents than the industrial facilities.

“If you live closer to a highway or a mainline railway, the impact is far greater than any industrial facility,” he said.

Currently, the NCIA is updating all the information from their partners, so that the Google Earth program will have the most up to date information available. Once that is completed, it will be rolled out to the public. Danielson said that will likely happen later this summer.

According to Danielson, a regional approach is much more effective than monitoring noise on a facility-by-facility basis, which was at one point the norm. A number of years ago, it came to a point where the industrial partners in the area realized there needed to be a better way of monitoring noise, he said. That’s when the organization took a more regional focus.

Creating the plan was challenging because all of the significant players in the Heartland needed to contribute a noise profile of their site, which is a major undertaking and, according to Danielson, costs between $150,000 and $200,000.

“This is something that has cost millions of dollars to get where it is today and it definitely isn’t something you can do overnight,” he said.

Not all of the industry in the area are required by regulators to provide a noise profile, but many have done so voluntarily for the sake of the regional plan.

“It’s very exciting. It’s a new way of thinking for us,” he said. “The old method required each facility to demonstrate its compliance with permissible sound levels, but that doesn’t work well in the Heartland. (The plan is) a tool to help evaluate where we need to focus energy in terms of mitigating noise. Each year we look at what has developed and what could create problems, then identify areas of improvement.”

Danielson said that with new technology, noise levels from facilities are decreasing. However, overall, noise within the Heartland will continue to increase as industrial development continues.

“Noise never used to be a concern by manufacturers of equipment, but now (noise reduction) is built in. So as we see facilities implement new technology we see noise decrease,” he said. “But the region is poised to grow when any new facility is built it will add to the noise.”

As the Industrial Heartland continues to develop, Danielson said he expects residents who currently live in the area to relocate. He said many have already relocated and within 20 to 80 years there may not be any residents living in the area.

“Residents who do live there, do so on borrowed time,” he said, noting that many are under a lot of pressure from industry to be bought out.