Smithers couple says Pinnacle Pellet plant noise is unbearable

The Hearndens have lived in the same house on Hudson Bay Mountain Road for more than 30 years

A wooden sign hanging under the address for Terry and Shirley Hearnden’s house on Hudson Bay Mountain road reads Hearnden’s Hideaway.

For the last eight months, it’s felt like anything but.

The couple, who have lived in the area for over three decades, is concerned about noise coming from the nearby Pinnacle wood pellet plant, whose property is located a mere 300 metres or so from the Hearnden’s as the crow flies.

Discussing the noise, which they said began around Christmas of last year, the couple paint a picture of a lifestyle completely changed by what they describe as an often times unbearable background noise.

“Sometimes you swear it was a helicopter taking off in your back field and it doesn’t go away,” said Terry.

“I’ll go climb up on my tractor and cut grass because then at least I can’t hear it.”

READ MORE: Residents frustrated with pellet plant noise

The couple said that initially after the Pinnacle wood pellet plant opened up they had actually remarked to each other how quiet it was.

“They started up [and it was] perfect, you know, it’s nice and quiet, you don’t hear anything, it was beautiful — and then all hell broke loose and it’s been that way ever since.”

Terry said it’s gotten so bad that many neighbours have considered selling, motioning towards a property down the road.

“He wants to sell too because he’s just had it, he can’t take it anymore.”

An option for some, but not one for him and his wife, Terry said, referencing their age and the sentimental value the property has to them.

“When we bought property it was all bush, there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears in this place, we built the house, everything, we don’t want to give it up.

“Its heartbreaking, really.”

READ MORE: 21 northern B.C. mayors urge Ottawa to help struggling interior forestry industry

Noting that the actual pellet plant section of the operation is extremely quiet, Terry said it’s the log grinding he takes issue with.

At their July 9 meeting, Pinnacle’s plant’s General Manager of Operations Jeff Johnston acknowledged the issue and said the company was already taking steps to mitigate noise.

“As a starting point, when we became aware of the sound issue we reviewed our operating hours to ensure they were more conservative than the Town bylaws. Next, we dispatched a newly-acquired grinder to the site to replace the chipper. The grinder operates at a lower level of noise, a notable improvement,” a letter presented to council from Johnston reads.

It adds that this is not a final solution and that further plans to address the issue would be released in August.

Speaking to The Interior News, Johnston said that the company is currently looking at both alternative grinder designs as well ideal on-site locations with the overall goal of lowering volume for surrounding areas.

He said this also includes working with an engineering firm that does studies around acoustics and vibrations to try and determine additional mitigation strategies for future log grinding.

While he said he was unable to expand much more until the above studies are complete, he said that the company was on track to give an update to council this month.

For his part, Terry is optimistic that a solution can be reached, adding that he and everyone he knows is, on the whole, a supporter of Pinnacle.

“We’re not against the pellet plant. Anybody we talk to is not against the pellet plant. No one. It’s the noise of grinding logs which is another section of the [operation] that no one knew [about].”

He said that between the number of signatures they have been able to get (54 as of July 11, with the furthest signatory living only 2.4 kilometres away from the development) and Pinnacle’s apparent willingness to address the problem, he feels it’s only a matter of time before a solution is reached.

For now though, the noise continues.

“We used to always come out here at 8:30, 9 a.m. in our robes and sit here and have our morning coffee and we can’t do that anymore … we haven’t done that all spring,” said Shirley.

“It’s changed our lifestyle.”

As for the people who think that the Hearndens and other 52 signatories are making much ado about nothing, Shirley had a simple offer.

“If they would like to come up here and listen to it … when they’re grinding they are more than welcome to come up here and listen to it and see what they think of it.”

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