On Feb. 18 at 10 a.m., Telluride Town Council will discuss the impacts of amplified noise from Town Park.

The discussion is welcome. It is time for the town to take seriously the issue of noise — particularly from music festivals — that passes a threshold we might term “ear-shattering.”

Yes, ear-shattering is a subjective, non-scientific term. And that’s the challenge the town faces: to set reasonable standards. As with any nuisance, there are impacts from noise that we would agree are negligible and impacts we would agree are intolerable. The issue arises with noise levels that are enjoyable to some and excessive to others.

This is no excuse not to act, but it does challenge the town to find a compromise we can all live with. Of course, music festivals will generate noise that is audible outside the park. Sometimes, particularly at night, it will be loud. This can be tolerated as a price we pay to host festivals in exchange for the benefits they bring. But at the same time, we can and should insist that the music be kept below the level that it causes our homes to shake and ears to hurt, sometimes with curfew extensions late into the night.

This is not a threat to music festivals. It is, on the contrary, in their best interest to be good neighbors and to cultivate broad community support. If, as has happened in recent years, ear-shattering decibel levels provoke complaints, then concerns about the negative impacts of festivals overall, or of specific festivals whose fans like it loud, will surely increase, and that really could begin to threaten the festival business.

That is exactly what happened earlier this year when The Ride Festival asked for an extra evening of music next summer. The Town Parks and Recreation Board rejected the request largely on the basis of no confidence that the festival promoter could or would reduce the volume, despite his promise to do so. Town Council subsequently overruled the parks and rec board, and allowed the festival an extra evening for one year only, but subject to no new rules or conditions. Fortunately, council may now be willing to consider the possibility that the upcoming festival season would be put to even better use if new sound level restrictions for all festivals were also put to the test.  

We have been told by town staff that the issue is complicated for reasons related to the science of acoustics. But it’s also complicated to clean up air and water and curtail light pollution, and the town does all of those things. Ear-shattering noise is such an obnoxious infringement on quality of life that the town must tackle it, no matter how complicated it may be, even if it takes some trial-and-error to get it right. Other communities do it, so it’s not impossible.

If you would like to see Telluride’s music festivals thrive, but within reasonable limits on how loud they can be, please attend the upcoming work session, scheduled between 10 a.m. and noon.

Seth Cagin