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How loud is loud in New Port Richey?

The foundation of any good law is its measurability.

"Don't go too fast" means nothing. But "Speed Limit 55 Miles Per Hour" means don't go faster than that speed or you will be fined.

"Don't be so noisy" is just as unclear.

That's why it is disappointing to see the New Port Richey City Council approve a long overdue noise ordinance without including measurable levels of noise that can result in a fine or jail. Instead, the ordinance simply prohibits "loud and raucous noise" that would disturb "reasonable persons of ordinary sensibilities."

But what is loud and raucous? And who chooses which person has ordinary sensibilities?

Some people enjoy a heavy metal band at full blast; others are driven to distraction by Barry Manilow at quarter volume.

Without specific decibel levels, the ordinance doesn't give residents guaranteed protection from precise levels of loudness. Instead, the entire matter is left to the judgment of the law enforcement officer who responds to the complaint. If that particular officer doesn't think your neighbor's motorcycle is too loud, then, by golly, it's not too loud.

On the flip side, the new ordinance doesn't warn people just how loud they can get before they can get into serious trouble. That means you might play your saxophone unimpeded Monday night when a noise-lenient officer is on duty, but be cited for the same activity Tuesday if a noise-sensitive officer answers the complaint about you.

This kind of catch-as-catch-can interpretation will do little to settle neighborhood squabbles over boom boxes and bouncing basketballs. Worse, it puts law enforcement officers on the spot when caught between warring neighbors. Too, since the municipal ordinance supersedes the county noise ordinance, residents heretofore protected by the county's measurable noise limits might be less protected under the city's ordinance in case of disputes.

The New Port Richey ordinance probably will stand up in court. A similar one was tested in Clearwater and was upheld in 1989 by three appeals judges.

That's not the point, though.

Prolonged exposure to noise louder than 70 decibels can damage people's ability to hear, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Anything louder than 30 decibels interrupts most people's sleep. The purpose of a noise ordinance is to guarantee residents that they will be protected from irritating and possibly debilitating noises. That level has been determined to be measurable, and most good ordinances contain them, including Pasco County's and neighboring Port Richey's.

In fact, New Port Richey should take a close look at its neighboring city's noise ordinance. It is tough, detailed and precise and has gone far to protect Port Richey residents from unsettling noises _ as people who live along the Cotee River near Hooters and the Seaside Inn can happily verify. Before Port Richey's stringent noise ordinance went into effect, dockside bands jangled the nerves and interrupted the sleep of everyone along that waterway. Now, the waterfront is peaceful and pleasant at all hours.

The vagueness of New Port Richey's noise ordinance invites expensive court challenges from noisemakers and complainers alike. Before that happens, the city should call its neighbor and borrow its measuring tables, then amend its ordinance to include them.