A special meeting to discuss noise in Decorah was not meant to put the Saturday night races on trial.
Rather, it was scheduled as a chance for the community to respectfully share its ideas for getting along better, according to Carolyn Corbin, chair of the city's economic development and betterment committee.
The Decorah City Council chambers was the site of a standing-room-only crowd of more than 120 city residents Monday evening, who convened to share their concerns on the topic. Fourteen people spoke on the issue of noise within the city limits.
"This meeting is about noise. We are not here to single out one certain event," said Committee Member Gary Rustad.
Although the meeting was meant to generally discuss the possibility of a noise ordinance in Decorah, the bulk of the commentary centered around racetrack noise on Saturday nights, with eight speakers supporting racing in Decorah, and six speaking out about the noise it creates.
Tyler Rinken of Decorah said diversity is part of what makes Decorah a great place to live.
"We come from many different backgrounds ... everyone enjoys something a little unique about themselves ... Nordic Fest and Live on Winnebago are loud, but those are some of the things that make this community great ... There is no reason to point fingers at people for enjoying what they do," said Rinken.
Deb Edwards, who lives near Phelps Park, said there is a difference between Nordic Fest, which happens once a year, and the races, which are every Saturday night during the season.
"The only place we can get peace and quiet is in the house with the windows closed," said Edwards.
Ross Hadley, who lives on Pershing Ave. near the racetrack, said "The races are a problem. They're loud, but they're not always loud. It seems to depend on the class, number of cars and what not. I feel I should be able to have music playing as loud as the races are. If I want to enjoy something. I feel we should have equal opportunity ... Music to one person's ears is garbage to another."
Troy Hovey added Decorah is the only place he races that checks mufflers for noise.
"I've raced everywhere from Minnesota to Oklahoma ... No other town's got a problem with it and they've been around forever. I don't see what the big deal is," said Hovey.
Kyrl Henderson, who also lives near Phelps Park, said he has been on both sides of the issue.
"I sit on my porch on a Saturday night and can't have a phone conversation because the races are too loud. I've also been in a band where the cops come in and shut us down because of complaints from neighbors," he said, adding he thinks a consistent sound-level ordinance is the answer.
Henderson, who has taken his own sound-level readings, said he also thinks there is a gap between perception and reality on the issue.
"I don't know what the solution is. I'm the guy who put up the graphic on Facebook that says 'Don't stop the races, just muffle the noise," said Henderson.
In response to Henderson, Doris Sweet, who lives on Day Street, said she can't sit on her deck any day of the week and talk on the phone because of the noise from traffic and school buses.
Cara Sand, who lives on Pleasant Hill, said she feels a good compromise would be to hold races during the day.
Kerry Dolan, who lives on Rural Ave., supported the idea of an earlier race time.
"Not every week, maybe early one Saturday a month to give us a break every once in a while. That would be nice," said Dolan.
Les Askelson disagreed.
"Racing in the afternoon, dust would be an issue. Where would the crowd be? They'd be working or mowing grass. If they (promoters Chuck and Todd Ihde) don't get the crowd, there won't be races," said Askelson.
"I was in this room when Walmart came to town. They bring a lot of people to town, and that's what the races are doing every weekend," he said, adding if Decorah doesn't want to support the races, he thinks Howard or Fayette counties would jump at the chance to have a promoter come to their fairgrounds.
"There are 1,500 to 2,000 people a week who come to this track and community to spend money here," he added.
Askelson said the promoters have already made concessions, such as moving hot laps at the races back from 6:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and a four-week break following the fair.
Askelson added the biggest factor affecting how the noise is dispersed is the wind.
Anna Mae Remmen of Fort Atkinson, a 25-year employee of the racetrack, and Mark Hackman, who lives on East Main near the racetrack, both expressed support for racing as a family-friendly activity that gives kids a place to go on Saturday night.
"I agree it is loud. But the one thing I like about it is all the kids who are there. It gives them something to do and they really enjoy it," said Hackman.
A great dialogue
Corbin said she wished to extend thanks to anyone who comes to a public meeting.
"And special gratitude for the way this community shares its concerns with sensitivity and respect for others," she said.
City Administrator Chad Bird provided the committee and members of the audience with a sample noise ordinance from Adel, Iowa, where he worked before coming to Decorah.
He said Decorah has no noise ordinance in place, with the exception of a disturbing of the peace ordinance, which uses generally broad statements "without a lot of qualitative language."
Committee Member Rachel Vagts said while she doesn't want the city to create an ordinance that's difficult to enforce, "I do think there are times of the day when it's not unreasonable to expect a quiet time for people to rest."