Council, New Ulm Steel debate city noise rule

NEW ULM – The New Ulm City Council and New Ulm Steel and Recycling held a robust debate about the merit of New Ulm’s noise ordinance rules Tuesday during a hearing on whether the city should order noise control measures for New Ulm Steel’s new industrial metal shredder.

The machine in question was built earlier this year to shred everything from toasters to school buses, and sort out the valuable metal to sell in bulk.

Several property owners around New Ulm Steel have complained to city officials about the noise and vibration caused by the shredder’s operations. Additionally, there have been several call about large explosions that occurred inside the shredder during its operations. Smaller explosion are part of the shredder’s natural process due to nature of the objects and material being demolished.

The council responded by ordering tests of the shredder for violations of city code. New Ulm Steel was found to violate the noise ordinance with the shredder, but was cleared of any vibration violations.

During the council’s discussion Tuesday about how the shredder could be brought into compliance, New Ulm Steel owner Josh Luneburg redirected the discussion into a debate about the noise ordinance itself.

He argued he should not be forced to hire an engineering firm to determining noise reduction changes he should implement because he did not fail the City’s requirements on decibel levels, but instead simply the noise frequency levels, or hertz. He said that if the hertz levels were ignored, his shredder was in compliance. He said that instead, other equipment like his trucks and his crane, which are similarly used by many other New Ulm businesses and the City itself, would be in violation. He said it would be unreasonable to expect use of this normal equipment to not be allowed, especially if he was the only one singled out have to make changes. He also noted that New Ulm’s noise level requirements were much stricter than MPCA requirements and nearly any other Minnesota city. Additionally, he said the city was likely the only one to have the added requirements about hertz levels. He said the ordinance would need to be revised because it would shut down most New Ulm businesses and would be nearly impossible meet even with noise reductions measures.

City Attorney Hugh Nierengarten and City Manager Brian Gramentz challenged some of Luneburg’s assertions, such as pointing out that hertz levels mattered even at acceptable decibels levels. Gramentz explained that the decibel levels of a normal conversation could become a nuisance on par with nails scratching a chalk board if the hertz levels, or frequency of sound, was beyond acceptable levels.

Nierengarten also pointed out the noise ordinance mentioned that the deciding factor in violation is whether it becomes “objectionable” to the surround properties.

Gramentz added that the state’s noise ordinance also carried variables that allowed business to exceed the decibel levels for small, select amounts of time “to meet the ebb and flow of business.” He said the key factor was that the sound was not continuous and frequent in its occurrence.

The council members discussed the different aspects of the issue. The consensus was that New Ulm Steel needs to take some action to address the serious complaints of surrounding landowners, and that the noise ordinance should be reviewed to see if it is too harsh.

Luneburg said he is willing to work on the shredder, but felt that the objections were only due to the shredder being a new noise. He said his normal operations may actually be the louder noise source. He said he will only act if the Council provides “a clear, objective” criteria for any modifications to the machine. He said he was unwilling to spend money on changes that may not bring him into compliance, or might unfairly single him out. He added that he objected to putting the shredder in a building as a solution, since it made the operations much more dangerous of his employees.

Gramentz noted that New Ulm Steel has already taken several modifications of the shredder to make is safer and address noise in small amounts prior to Tuesday’s discussion.

The Council settled on ordering City officials to investigate how several other Minnesota towns regulate both their shredders and their noise ordinances before provide a report the the Council. It also ordered City officials to interview the property owners complaining about New Ulm Steel to develop an objective criteria of what they specifically objected to with the business. Luneburg was instructed to consider potential modification he could make to his machine or grounds to offset noise issues. The Council will pick the issue back up at a later meeting.

Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at

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