To beep or not to beep. That was the question posed to the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday regarding whether school buses at Wood River High School should be required to use reverse-gear alarms at all times.
The commission resolved to uphold a conditional-use requirement dating from 2003 that requires bus drivers to disable the beeping alarms while inside a bus barn adjacent to the Community Campus to avoid noise impacts on neighbors.
“One of our highest charges is safety,” said P&Z Chairwoman Janet Fugate. “But I am also big on people honoring their obligations.”
The Blaine County School District sought Monday to amend a 16-year-old obligation under a conditional-use permit that allowed construction of the bus barn at 1050 Fox Acres Road, only if the reverse alarms are silenced until buses were dispersed and out on the road.
Reverse alarms are used to mitigate risks to passersby by alerting them that a bus is in reverse gear and will back up.
A presentation made by the Hailey Community Development Department on Monday states that state and federal standards for school buses requires the use of reverse alarms with a minimum sound level of 112 decibels.
Blaine County School District Transportation Supervisor Lance Doby said in an interview that he ordered the alarms to be turned on at all times in April after a bus driver inadvertently turned an alarm off during an employee evaluation drive while backing up, 20 minutes after leaving the bus barn.
Doby said he could not take the chance that drivers might silence the alarms away from the bus barn when the alarms should be in operation.
He told the P&Z that if an accident occurs due to the silencing of alarms, the School District and the city could be liable for damages.
City Attorney Chris Simms said that even though the School District is required to use the alarms at all times, the P&Z could instruct it to seek a waiver from the state to allow them to be silenced in the bus barn.
“I don’t believe the city would be liable for any School District negligence on that site,” Simms said.
Several residents of Green Valley Drive, located across a playing field from the bus barn, complained about beeping noises from the buses emerging at 6 a.m. from the bus barn.
“It’s loud,” said Becki Keefer, who protested the location of the bus barn in 2003, and brought a written complaint to the city when the bus barn alarms began beeping again early this summer.
The P&Z instructed Doby to explore sound mitigation strategies for the bus barn, including possible resurfacing of concrete walls with sound-absorbing materials, and reverse-parking the buses to limit alarm noises. Doby will also test for noise levels from the alarms during regular operation.
A public hearing on the School District’s requested conditional-use permit amendment was tabled until Sept. 15, pending further information on the proposed alternatives.