Jacky Blackburn wants the county to set and enforce volume limits after suffering the loud music and partying of his up-all-night neighbor, a man he has had jailed numerous times for disturbing the peace.
But that neighbor, Phil Raven, called the ordinance nonsense and accused Blackburn of repeatedly harassing him and his family to the point of a nervous breakdown. He said he can't enjoy his own yard anymore for fear his neighbor will hurl insults at him and call the law.
"They're just trying to break me," Raven said. "They think I'm a poor old country boy and that I'll get scared and go away. They don't know me very well."
Blackburn said he's the one who can't enjoy his yard: "He's just trash. It's not even so much the music. It's the cussing and the screaming. It's so bad I've had to get my grandkids out of the pool to come in the house."
The situation began shortly after Blackburn built his home next door to Raven on County Road 251. At first, the families were cordial, and Raven's children played with the Blackburn's horses and swam in their pool.
But Raven plunged into depression after his wife died and admitted to easing his pain with loud music and beer while sitting in the small above-ground pool outside his house.
Blackburn complained, but the music continued. So he called the Sheriff's Department, whose deputies told him they could do nothing since the county had no noise ordinance. To get relief, Blackburn would have to file an affidavit at Justice Court saying Raven disturbed the peace and settle the matter before a judge.
Blackburn did this in 2008, 2009 and again in 2011, according to county records. Another neighbor, Robert Woods, also filed a similar complaint in 2008. Each time, a deputy arrived at Raven's home to take him to jail where he would sit sometimes for two or three days. And each time, Raven had to post bond, hire an attorney and show up in court to defend himself.
Each time he was found not guilty, but the two most recent charges are still pending.
"Thousands of dollars this guy has cost me," Raven said, tearing up. "I'm a nervous wreck. I jump every time I hear my dogs barking because I think I'm going to get arrested again."
Blackburn also filed charges against Raven's father for stalking. That charge was dismissed by a Justice Court judge, as was a charge Raven filed against Blackburn for harassment.
Blackburn said the situation would end if Raven would live quietly and respectfully, but he said the disruptions never cease.
He pulled out a notebook with two dozen pages of hand-scribed entries, each one detailing another Raven incident. He said one morning his wife awoke to loud music and went outside to find Raven's speakers placed at the edge of their property on full volume. It was done to incite them, he said.
The boom box Raven said he uses has no detachable speakers and only a short cord. He said he never placed it at the Blackburns' property line. When he turned it on at his preferred volume, country music filled the air. It was loud, but not loud enough to prevent conversation.
After the 2009 arrest and court appearance, Raven said he tried to strike a deal with Blackburn to end the feud. He would stop his music at 10 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on the weekend. But he said Blackburn refused.
Blackburn wasn't immediately available to comment on that statement, which was provided during a later interview.
"This is why people live in the country, so they can listen to music and do what they want to do on their own property," Raven said. "This noise ordinance, to change something like that for one man's obsession is asinine."
It'd have been different, Raven said, had he moved into Blackburn's neighborhood and interrupted his lifestyle. But Raven and his family have lived on the rural road since 1984.
They were the second family to locate there, said his mother, Mary Raven.
Over time, more residents joined the neighborhood but none complained until Blackburn.
Blackburn said no one complained because there's no noise ordinance.
Filing an affidavit requires residents sign their own names and go to court - a step many aren't prepared to make when it involves disputes with a neighbor they must face daily.
If it passes, the noise ordinance will shift the burden of enforcement to the Sheriff's Department. Deputies can find anyone in violation if noise emanating from a property exceeds 65 decibels during the day and 58 at night.
For comparison, a vacuum cleaner hits about 70 decibels and a normal conversation reaches 60, according to the American Speak-Language Hearing Association.
"If it breaks the barriers, you're going to be under violation of the ordinance and we'll have the right to charge you," said Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson. "So if you're running a chain saw or something you could be breaking the ordinance, and that's the part I don't like."
A chain saw creates 110 decibels of sound, according to ASHA.
Johnson has voiced reservations about the proposed ordinance several times during discussions with the Lee County Board of Supervisors, where Blackburn has lobbied for it. He said it will be hard to enforce and has the potential for abuse.
"This thing is driven by one or two people who are complaining that we don't have a noise ordinance," he said. "It's not a situation where we've got 5,000 people in my office demanding this."
Board of Supervisors' President Phil Morgan said he hadn't received any complaints about noise prior to the Blackburn case, either, but he believes the ordinance will pass. The board will hold a public hearing on the matter at 9 a.m., Feb. 21 at the Lee County Justice Center.
"We want to make sure ... it's drawn in such a fashion that we'll not have a slippery slope, so it's not to the point where you can't run a chain saw," Morgan said. "But that you can at least have some peace of mind and sleep at night."
Deputies won't ride around, decibel meters hanging out the window, trying to bust people for noise violations, Johnson said.
It will be a complaint-driven process where neighbors still must call in to report offenders. Deputies then can take a reading to see if charges are warranted.
Under that scenario, Raven's decibels would determine whether he faces punishment.
How Loud is Loud?
DECIBELS SOUND SOURCE
130 Jack hammer
120 Ambulance siren
110 Chain saw
100 Hand drill
90 Blow dryer
85 Heavy city traffic
70 Vacuum cleaner
60 Normal conversation
50 Moderate rainfall
40 Refrigerator humming
30 Whispered voice
SOURCE: American Speak-Language
Hearing Association; National Institute on
Deafness and other Communication Disorders