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CANNONS SCARE BIRDS, IRK HUMANS

Neighbors complain about the noise. The county considers banning the booming.

A year ago, Barb Mishko bought a concrete stucco home in the Estates, a golf course neighborhood in northwest Pasco County.

Her back yard came with a pool, and a view of the woods and a nearby blueberry farm.

It sounded like the good life - until the cannons started booming.

To the anger of neighbors, Bob's Berry Farm fired propane-powered air cannons to shoo the birds away from its 40,000 blueberry bushes east of U.S. 19. Swarms of the tiny cedar waxwings fancy blueberries during the annual harvest from April to June.

The small cannon provides an economical counterattack, unless you live nearby.

"Sometimes it was before 7 (a.m.)," Mishko said Monday. "There have been times when they apparently inadvertently left the cannons going till midnight."

At today's County Commission meeting in New Port Richey, the board will discuss drafting a law that would ban noise cannons from most areas of the county.

Only land designated for future agriculture use in the county's long-term growth plan would be allowed to have noise cannons, according to Senior Assistant County Attorney Kristi Wooden's recommendation to commissioners. That would ban the cannon from at least seven blueberry farms in northwest Pasco, according to a count by county officials.

To enforce the ban, however, the county also would have to show the farmers are not covered by the state Right to Farm Act, which generally bars local governments from imposing restrictions on farmers. Whether that act applies to specific properties would have to be decided farm by farm, according to Wooden's report.

"I guess I have a right to farm - it's been here 25 to 30 years," said John Curry, 81, who bought the land for Blueberry Patch off Denton Avenue, east of Little Road, nine years ago.

Without the cannons, Curry said, he and his 4,000 blueberry bushes - which fetch $10 a plant come harvest - will suffer. A kite didn't scare anything, and a fake owl only gave the tiny birds a new friend. Chasing after the birds only shoos them to higher trees until they are safe to chow again.

But the cannon gives him some punch, which he uses as needed in two-minute intervals in a setting with fewer homes nearby than Bob's Berry Farm. Still, the gleaming new homes of Summer Chase are going up a half-mile west, and Curry acknowledged some people have complained to county officials.

"Can they give us any alternatives?" Curry asked.

Other farms have less tenure to bargain over. In a twist from Pasco's usual growing pains, many homes were built before some of the blueberry farms went up, county officials said.

For example, Mishko's house was built in 1994. According to code enforcement records, Bob's Berry Farm has operated since 2001. The county reported the farm uses cannons and shotguns to scare birds as needed. Owner Bob Waldo did not return calls seeking comment, and no one was at the farm Monday.

All six noise complaints against Bob's Berry Farm this year came one week in April. In one complaint, a neighbor said the racket was loud enough it "rattles windows."

No citations were written, though. Enforcement officers would have to measure the decibel levels, and the blasts would stop before enough evidence could be gathered, said Code Enforcement director Richard Ortiz.

"Our hands are really tied by it," he said.

That left Mishko and other residents saying that while they appreciate the right to farm, they have rights that should be protected, too.

"Our home was already here," she said.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6232.

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