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Reporter's Notebook: Road Test

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Norine Dworkin

Founding Editor

Thursday, April 8, 2021


Bhavya Shah

Earlier this week, noise from different vehicles traveling along Marsh Road were measured at different levels, including school buses that were recorded at 92 decibels.

I’m standing on the grassy shoulder of Marsh Road in west Winter Garden with a couple of guys from the Clermont sand mining companies and District 4 Winter Garden City Commissioner Colin Sharman.

It’s 5:45 a.m. and still dark. The guys are out here doing an informal traffic study, tracking noise from vehicles driving a straightaway just east of the roundabout outside the entrances to the Waterside and Sanctuary at Twin Waters communities.

Seven years ago “no one was on this road,” says a guy with a clipboard and tracking sheet. “It was a secret road.”

Now, with three communities of 387 homes and even more being built further west, the secret is out. The road thrums with traffic even before the sun is up: cement mixers, 18-wheelers, vans, pickup trucks with trailers, delivery trucks, school buses, SUVs, sedans.

Road noise is one of the paramount issues in the two month-long standoff between three parties: the residents of the new communities that line Marsh Road; the truckers that haul sand and other construction materials; and the Clermont mines a few miles up Marsh Road that supply the materials.

Residents — who say they’ve endured noise from truck traffic that starts at 4 a.m., six days a week, and reaches 100 decibels at times — want the sand haulers off Marsh Road completely.

The Winter Garden City Commission is a single vote away from making that a reality.

Center Sand Mine representatives — who note that their 54-year-old mining company built a portion of Marsh Road from the Lake County line to Williams Road for their operations — maintain that a ban on heavy trucks would decimate their company. They say it would force the mine to close, put the mining company’s 14 permanent employees out of work, and impact construction subcontractors who rely on the mine for materials and the hundred or so truck drivers who haul those materials around Lake and Orange counties. Titan America, Center Sand Mine’s parent company, threatened to sue the city of Winter Garden immediately if a ban went into effect.

Currently, the ban is on hold as stakeholders from the mines, truck drivers, counties and the cities of Clermont and Winter Garden have gathered over the last month to hash out a compromise everyone can live with. Winter Garden City Commissioners are expected to take up the issue again on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Winter Garden has set up strip counters on Marsh Road, which track the number of trucks and their weight and speed. The city has installed cameras and plan to put in decibel meters.

The mining guys are coming at the problem from a different angle. Their stance is that even without dump trucks, Marsh Road is still plenty busy and plenty noisy, according to an email that Walt Reed, Titan America’s negotiator in the stakeholder meetings, sent me. While Winter Garden is measuring dump trucks, the mining guys are looking at the rest of the traffic. Which is why we’re all standing by the side of the road on this chilly spring morning.

One guy’s armed with a radar gun and a tracking sheet; another guy’s monitoring a decibel meter. We’re not using their names because they’re not authorized to talk to the media. Commissioner Sharman is recording video with his iPad.

“That’s a 91 on the Harley,” Decibel Meter Guy calls out. Tracking Sheet Guy notes the type of vehicle, the decibel level and how fast it's going. The faster the speed, the louder the noise. When vehicles go the speed limit — 35 mph — the noise level drops substantially.

A Corvette speeds by and hits 82 on the decibel meter. The average for cars is 85, although some do hit 100. A school bus makes 92 decibels as it rumbles past. Traffic noise is generally 85 on the decibel charts. For comparison, conversation is typically 50-60 decibels while a plane taking off is 120-140.

What’s notable this morning: there are very few sand haulers.

“Even if you took every truck off the road, you’d still have noise,” Tracking Sheet tells me. “It’s a noisy road.” 

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