Updated: City manager to meet with cannery on noise, waste

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In the 1950s, the San Benito Foods cannery was on the outskirts of town but has been surrounded by development.

The city manager is set to meet with the San Benito Foods plant manager to discuss issues related to the downtown tomato cannery, including the potential for elevated noise this summer compared with prior canning seasons.
City Manager Bill Avera confirmed Tuesday he will meet with cannery Plant Manager Kent Rounds.
“I am going to have a discussion with Kent about a couple things related to cannery,” Avera wrote by email to the Free Lance. “I just need to ask if there has been a change to the equipment or processing speed that would generate noise. Some say they don’t notice a difference, others think it is much noisier than years past.”
Some neighbors have complained about elevated noise coming from the century-old San Benito Foods tomato cannery. It appeared, meanwhile, that the reverberating cannery sounds heard throughout parts of downtown in recent weeks may have subsided Monday after the Free Lance raised questions to city and San Benito Foods officials.
Surrounded by a residential district, the downtown subsidiary of Neil Jones Food Company runs its canning season for about 11 to 12 weeks, normally starting at some point in July. The canning season is a transformation for the otherwise quiet cannery, as the facility kicks into high gear for a continuous, 24-hour operation that lasts into September. It also means nonstop noise, heard throughout surrounding residential neighborhoods, blaring from its heavy machinery and steam stacks.
This year, the canning season launched July 10, confirmed Rounds in an interview with the Free Lance on Friday. Rounds on Friday contended nothing had changed at the facility—employing 450 seasonal and 550 permanent workers and operating since 1915—which would have caused any elevated noise compared with prior canning seasons.
At the outset of this year’s season, however, some residents have complained about the possibility of elevated noise levels compared with recent years. Though the cannery’s precise noise emissions are unclear, elevated sounds over prolonged periods can cause hearing damage, according to health authorities.
Neighborhood resident Felix Solano on Friday told the Free Lance that a noise escalation this canning season has been noticeable.
“It’s twice as loud as it was before,” said Solano, who also complained to the city about drainage issues at the cannery that officials are exploring.
Rounds, however, indicated the cannery had not made any changes with machinery that would add noise.
“Nothing’s changed in terms of equipment or operating procedures,” Rounds said. “So there’s—I’m not aware of anything for the noise to have changed.”
It’s not the first time the cannery, with its head office at Hawkins and Sally streets, has been questioned on noise during its summer canning season. The noise complaints also come as the cannery responds to last summer’s issues with odors throughout much of the city caused by waste from San Benito Foods.
In 2003, the city responded to residents’ noise complaints, and Free Lance queries, by conducting decibel measurements using a sound meter that found noise levels surrounding the cannery far exceeded the city’s allowable limits. Back then, the city worked on the matter with the cannery, which agreed to install noise-muffling equipment.
When asked about the issue Friday, Avera questioned the city code’s allowable decibel levels—officials recently have said they are looking at possibly amending the local noise rules—and whether those levels are too low. According to the code, noise at nearby residential properties should not exceed 55 decibels during daylight hours or 50 decibels after sunset. Avera said he heard that was about the level of a coffee maker.
It is roughly comparable to the level of a normal conversation averaging about 60 decibels, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. The CDC, though, also stresses that prolonged exposure to elevated sound aggravates potential health impacts and suggests that eight hours is the acceptable limit at 85 decibels before someone could experience hearing damage. When the city conducted sound measurements in 2003, decibel readings came back as high as 90 near the cannery, where employees wear hearing protection.
Councilman Ray Friend—who represents the cannery’s district—said on Friday he would use his own sound meter to measure decibel levels near the cannery, but hadn’t gotten to it yet by Monday afternoon.
“Well, I know that I talked to the city manager and he said he was going to talk to them,” Friend said Monday. “I know we have a meeting Wednesday because there’s some other neighborhood complaints that have come up.”
Friend also said there are concerns about the cannery’s drainage issues near Hawkins Street.
“When they wash out the tubs, if a drain gets backed up and they don’t pay attention to it, it washes out on Sally (Street) and gets into Hawkins Street.”
Solano, the concerned resident who lives on nearby Hazel Street, wants the city to address both issues. He said he told a San Benito Foods cannery foreman the noise was louder this year than prior canning seasons.
“I told them, I said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to do something about this,’” Solano said. “Last year, we could watch TV with the doors open. This year, we have to close our doors.”
On Monday, the noise levels may have been lower in areas blocks from the cannery where the sounds had reverberated prior to last weekend. Rounds didn’t return a message Monday afternoon about the apparent change.
CDC Sound Comparison:
Whisper: 30 dB
Normal conversation: 60dB
Power lawnmower: 90 dB
Chain saw: 110 dB
Jet engine at takeoff: 140 dB
Source: CDC
To learn more about noise impacts, go here.

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