It’s not like the April 13 ruling came as a surprise to Westin owners either. In June, 2011, the court ordered an expert report on the Westin’s sewage treatment plant’s noise pollution levels. By October of last year, the report was still not completed, so Rogers contracted a civil environmental and geotechnical engineer to perform the sound levels tests on his property and the vicinity around the plant. All measurements taken proved that sound levels from the Westin sewage treatment plant continued to significantly exceed the hotel’s permitted noise limit of 50 decibels, and a second study performed by the court-appointed engineering firm confirmed the first study’s findings.
Somewhere along the line, Westin owners had a structure installed around the sewage treatment plant, and they began turning the pumps off at night, which they felt should satisfy any noise complaints. However, even with the structure in place, noise from the sewage treatment plant was recorded at 80-90 decibels, far above the 50 decibel limit they had been court ordered to establish and maintain. The World Health Organization says that exposure to decibel levels about 70 for eight or more hours per day can lead to hearing loss, high blood pressure and other serious health problems.
The Rogers family has been exposed to these noise levels daily for six years – only within the last year did the Westin begin to shut down the plant at night.
So, after years of battling in court, and after two engineering studies proved Rogers’s complaint to be valid, a St. Maartens judge on April 13 of this year ordered Westin owners once and for all to get the decibel levels down to 50 or lower, or face fines and penalties of $500 per day.
Westin attorneys never showed up to that April hearing, nor did they attend another hearing held in June, a decision that was not overlooked by the judge.
“(The absence of Westin Hotel representatives in court) makes it sufficiently clear that the Westin, even after it received the (engineer’s) reports, does not really care about its noise pollution,” the judge said.
Last month, Westin owners finally became actively involved in the legal process only after discovering that Roger had put a lien on the hotel’s bank account, a move he made to secure the hotel’s mounting fines and penalties – which by now added up to $39,500. Westin attorneys filed a lawsuit against Rogers demanding that he stop the execution of the April 13 court ruling. In last week’s summary proceedings, Westin attorneys also demanded the penalty be reduced to zero, and that Roger be forced to lift the lien on the Westin’s bank account.
Westin attorneys appeared outraged that the hotel owner was being harassed by Roger and the court, as if woken from a deep sleep and previously unaware that there was a problem at all. They had, after all, built a structure around the sewage treatment plant and they began switching the thing off at night. They felt they had done enough, despite the engineering reports that recorded noise still 30-40 decibels over the court mandated limit.
The judge was unsympathetic, and referred to video footage submitted by Roger that proved the 80-90 decibel sound levels were still permeating the area surrounding the sewage treatment plant – most specifically, Roger’s property and home. The court ruled that the Westin had not abided by the April 13 ruling and rejected the Westin attorneys’ demands to drop the fines and penalties they had been warned about in April. It also refused to lift Rogers’s lien against the Westin’s bank account.
Further requests to mitigate the penalty were also denied.
This is not the only court-related noise problem the Dawn Beach Westin is facing either.
Last week, the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) President Emil Lee won a court case against the hotel after he was banned from its premises because of pending lawsuits filed against the hotel over noise pollution caused by the Westin’s generator and its cooling towers. The court decided in Lee’s favor, ruling that the Westin cannot ban the community leader from its property.
After six years of ignoring the complaints of the Roger family and others over its noise pollution violations, Westin owners got a wake-up call straight to their proverbial wallet last week, and are finally realizing that they must comply with local noise ordinances or face serious consequences. It took extreme measures on the part of Roger, who worked through the legal channels and managed not to give up along the way.
And it took extreme measures on the part of the court as well; by refusing to lift the lien on the hotel’s bank account put in place by the neighbor it had ignored for six years, and the court’s refusal to lower the fines and penalties, the message sent to Westin owners is clear.
It will be interesting to see if the Westin drags its feet on its pending generator and cooling tower noise pollution litigation after this tough love measure by the courts.
Until very recently, most people have taken it for granted that noise ordinances are rarely (if ever) enforced, and that noise polluters could carry on without consequence, despite growing evidence of the health risks to those exposed to continuous high decibel noise. However in recent years, courts have begun ruling in favor of the rights of individuals to peace and quiet, especially in their own homes. Rogers fought for six years for this right, and won.
The craziest part is that Westin owners could have saved themselves so much money and so many headaches if it had simply installed an effective noise abatement barrier around the sewage treatment plant to begin with, instead of throwing up a structure that did nothing to lower the decibel levels. Perhaps they thought they were saving money and appeasing the court by simply appearing to comply. But with no real regard for actual soundproofing qualities in the barrier installed, and by continuously ignoring court dates and deadlines for compliance, the Westin owners dug themselves into a deep financial hole that they could have easily avoided.