Walters residents claim explosions shaking homes
Published 4:38 pm Monday, July 8, 2019
Repeated explosions at the American K-9 Interdiction campus on Burdette Road — sometimes as many as 10 to 15 per day — are shaking homes in the nearby Walters community, so say several residents who complained to county officials at a June 19 meeting of the Southern and Central Isle of Wight Citizens Association.
According to Amy Ring, the county’s director of planning and zoning, American K-9 — a company that trains bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs for law enforcement agencies and the military — first received a special use permit from the county in 2009 for dog training, explosives training, explosives storage and other activities at the Burdette Road campus. In 2011, the county’s Board of Supervisors approved an amendment to American K-9’s permit, allowing the company to expand its operation to adjacent parcels. Then, in 2018, the company approached the county’s Planning & Zoning Department with a request that American K-9 and a partner company, Point One USA, be allowed to conduct limited explosives training on the site, which the Planning & Zoning Department approved later that year.
“It’s like a sonic boom,” said Walters area resident Rex Alphin, referring to the phenomenon that occurs when a supersonic airplane accelerates past the speed of sound. “It’s affecting our quality of life … it will literally shake houses.”
Deborah Dalton, who lives with her husband Don on Burdette Road directly across the street from the American K-9 campus, said another concern she had was the possibility of a horse being startled by the noise and throwing its rider.
“A lot of people own horses on our road,” she said. “Horses are very easy to scare. Our dogs go crazy.”
Don added that he is afraid to bring his mother, who has a pacemaker, to the family’s home.
Ring, however, said that when she and Board of Supervisors Chairman William McCarty listened to one of the explosions from the edge of the American K-9 campus, it was no louder than the existing firearms training already occurring at the American K-9 site and the adjacent Virginia State Police range.
“Planning & Zoning made the determination that they could conduct the training as an accessory use to their existing business subject to conditions,” Ring said. “There is no public hearing required, and there is no need to stop the explosions unless they violate the terms of their zoning permit or their state and federal permits.”
American K-9’s 2018 agreement with Planning & Zoning, Ring said, imposed the following conditions for the proposed explosives training: The training would be restricted to no more than 15 weeks per year and only between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday; the total charge weight per detonation is not to exceed 300 grams; and the noise level will not be constant and will not exceed 75 decibels at the property line. American K-9 also offered to build earth barricades and use other soundproofing techniques to bring noise levels at the property line down by another five to 10 decibels.
A shotgun blast, by comparison, is about 140 decibels, Ring explained. She added that the explosives training did not require any additional state or federal permits.
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) damage can occur within the ear at noise levels of 85 decibels (similar to that of running a lawn mower) over an eight-hour period. For every three decibels beyond 85, safe exposure time is reduced by half from the eight-hour threshold.
The Daltons said that since the addition of the sound buffers, American K-9 seems to be “doing a little better.”
“Since that time, the property owners have been extremely responsive to community concerns in regard to any noise, to include sending out letters to neighbors, posting the training schedule on their website … and building adjacent earthen noise attenuation features on site,” Ring said. “They have also performed subsequent decibel meter readings with the last one conducted on March 1 with a reading of 67 decibels at the property line.”
According to OSHA, a conversation heard from three feet away equates to approximately 60 decibels and typical classroom chatter equates to around 70 decibels, by comparison. A freight train, heard from 100 feet away, would register around 80 decibels.
The training schedule, she said, can be found at: https://www.pointoneusa.com/locations/range-one-complex/.
The Planning & Zoning director also mentioned that the county has an ordinance already on the books prohibiting loud noises between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. in residential areas, but said that the ordinance was written without a specific decibel limit. County Administrator Randy Keaton added that the existing ordinance deals strictly with noise, and “not with the concussion” that Alphin had described.
“We believe now that some of the concerns we hear from surrounding property owners may be the vibrations from the blasts rather than the noise itself,” Ring said. “We will begin looking into possible solutions to help reduce these types of impacts.”
By press time on Tuesday, The Tidewater News was unable to reach Paul Roushia, president of American K-9, or Chief Operating Officer Nigel Rhodes by phone or email. The newspaper was able to contact Point One USA but as of press time, a spokesman for that company had not called back with any comments.
The June 19 meeting was the first official meeting of the Southern and Central Isle of Wight Citizens Association, which was formed earlier this year as a counterpart to the Isle of Wight Citizens Association that meets in Carrollton on the northern end of the county. The group has elected Carrsville resident Volpe Boykin as president and Keith Horswill as vice president.