Washougal intervenes in dispute over barking, siren

City will build screen between animal shelter, construction firm sites

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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A protracted noise dispute in Washougal between a no-kill animal shelter and a construction company has ratcheted up in recent weeks, and now the city is spending money in an attempt to keep the peace.

Washougal has spent about $3,500 to construct a noise-dampening acoustic screen between the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society and its industrial neighbor, Northwest Underwater Construction.

The gesture is an attempt to quell growing animosity between the neighbors, who accuse each other of raising a din in an east Washougal industrial neighborhood. On one side of the fence are barking dogs, on the other a ultrasonic siren meant to quiet the dogs and standing between the two sides is the city.

Mayor Sean Guard said it was the city's responsibility to step in before the dispute got out of hand.

"If we've got something going on, and we have an activity that's proving bothersome to someone, it's important to take appropriate steps to mitigate that," Guard said.

On top of that, the shelter is located on property Washougal owns, making the city a responsible party in the dispute. The city leases its property to the humane society for a dollar a year.

Because of the barking dogs next door, Northwest Underwater Construction earlier in the fall placed a device, similar in look to a small siren, near the top of a fence separating the two properties. The company moved to the area about six months ago.

The company's device, which is supposedly activated by barking, is intended to silence dogs by emitting high-pitched sounds only they can hear.

Employees and volunteers from the shelter say noises from the device are clearly audible and do little but upset the animals.

Eric Muller, director of sales for Northwest Underwater Construction, said the company wouldn't comment on the situation.

The sound-buffering wall was put in place after conversations between city officials and representatives from Northwest Underwater Construction, Guard said.

Shelter representatives say they've called the police several times after an audible siren has sounded.

For its part, the sound buffer resembles a rubber wall and is intended to muffle the sound of barking dogs at the shelter.

But if the new wall is unsuccessful and doesn't keep noises contained, the city may have to find another course of action to keep the neighbors happy.

The city hasn't ruled out spending more money to improve the sound barrier, Guard said.

He said he wasn't surprised a monthlong noise conflict would draw so much attention from the city.

Despite the tenants' existing in an otherwise noisy industrial area, Guard said "everyone's perspective is different."

Mark Fruechtel, chairman of the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society's board of directors, has complained that the sirens can be set off by as little as passing trucks rumbling down nearby South 27th Street.

Because of the traffic and nearby industrial noise, Fruechtel said he finds it unlikely that employees of Northwest Underwater Construction could even hear the sound of barking dogs.

Although he's worried the conflict will continue, Fruechtel said he hasn't heard the device go off audibly in about a week.

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities;tyler.graf@columbian.com.