Submitted by Daniel Schuster
June 25, 2019 1:00 a.m.

Nestled in western Massachusetts, the rural small town of Palmer is no stranger to noise. Calling itself the land of seven railroads and near a busy interstate highway exchange, the idea of a private road course club seemed to be a good way to build revenues and stimulate the economy.

After a fitful startup, this flagship $20M, 2.3 mile driving track called The Palmer Motorsport Park, broke ground in 2013 and began operation in 2015. Despite using state of the art sound mitigation devices and muffler baffles, the noise of the track drifted off its site on Whiskey Mountain and raised the ire of the residents of three local towns: Palmer, Ware, and Warren.

Within months the club was embroiled in a lawsuit for breaking numerous environmental laws and ignoring permitting requirements. Ultimately, the track owners had to pay $450K and purchase 200 acres of additional buffering land.

Residents in Ware complained of “intolerable” noise. A Warren resident declared that while on her front porch or working in her garden “there are times that I feel like I’m sitting in the stands of a NASCAR race”.

The Palmer town zoning enforcement officer had to file a lawsuit in 2017 over a disagreement about how noise levels are recorded. A judge stepped in to force track owners into compliance.

Now more noise litigation is pending. Previously residents had warned their local officials of the “racket” cars would produce and their worst fears were realized. One citizen stated to a local paper that he “ran into a neighbor protesting the noise who said practically in tears how their Ronden St neighborhood used to be so much fun with neighbors barbequing and socializing outdoors, and how now they can’t even escape the noise indoors”. Another resident enjoying a walk in the woods on a Sunday reported “the noise sounded like 10 thousand mowers going off at once.”

Palmer is not alone in this unenviable situation. In 2008 in Thompson, New York the ultra-exclusive Monticello Motor Club opened up in the idyllic countryside outside this small town, on an old airport. A dozen years and at least one successful lawsuit later local residents declare the noise is still “unlivable”, and “on a clear day you could hear the buzz 2 miles away and it’s not a good buzz.”

Club Motorsports, another exclusive private road course, was built in 2017 near the rural community of Tamsworth, New Hampshire. Residents 3 miles away cry that the noise is “in your face”. Litigation is threatened. Though the official decibel limit of the course is just 69 dB, one resident laments “this background noise just eats at you.”

Presently, back in Palmer, there is a move to actually close the course down. Will this latest challenge work? My guess is it won’t. Once built, it’s built. I fear that it is too late for the residents of Palmer, Ware, and Warren. But, is it too late for us?

Ask our City Commissioners to keep these towns’ experience in mind. They may want to throw down more than a caution flag on a road course racing to a new lease at the airport. Hopefully our Commissioners will not allow a Palmer, Thompson, or Tamsworth to be the future of our island.

Editor’s Note:

Daniel, who retired from the military, moved to Amelia Island with his wife in 2014 after having lived “down island in the Caribbean.” After searching both coasts of Florida for a place with tranquility, a laid back style, and a nostalgic small town charm, they found it on Amelia Island. Their home, in the unincorporated area of Amelia Island, abuts the Egans Creek Greenway.

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Robert Riegler
Robert Riegler (@guest_55314)
3 years ago

Money,Money,Money…….follow the money and you’ll see who is controling the levers and the whole approval “process”. Surprise People not the single family owners who have to day in and day out live with these developments,oh “improvements”. Like a song said oh so long ago…..”put in a parking lot.”. Sad to see this whoile island carved up in the name of progress and development. What has made this island so special is rapidly disolving before our very eyes. Oh how quickly all forget ten years back when Centre Street was dark due to a lack of anyone with extra $$ to eat out let alone Tourestia’s spending $$. Now after years of “promotion” the whole island is for sale!

Drink up and be merry as times they have changed……on our dime Folks.

Betsie Huben
Betsie Huben (@guest_55315)
3 years ago

Thank you Mr. Schuster for so clearly summarizing what happens after a road course goes in. Having grown up near Monticello, NY, I am aware that 10 years on, it is still a battle for the folks in Thompson, NY. What is unique and perhaps most concerning about our situation here on Amelia Island is that unlike the Palmer Motor Sports Park, Amelia Island does not have 200 acres near the proposed ARGC site to dedicate to additional buffering. That means that once the engines start up around here, “the sound of 10 thousand mowers going off at once” will be with us forever.

Steven Crounse
Steven Crounse (@guest_55316)
3 years ago

Well written cautionary chronicle about several communities fighting for their tranquil lives. I’ve told my tale of living close. (A distance of 7 miles, on a Lake) to Watkins Glen International Racetrack. The Whine, Snarl, and Crackling of High Performance Engines. Not just during race day, But “time trials” during the week leading up to the race.The difference was, W.G.I.R. was up in the Mountains above us. Like a speaker on a pole at a rock concert. and the Lake which magnifies sound. This will not enhance any ones Quality of life on Amelia Island.

Vince Cavallo
Vince Cavallo(@grandvin)
3 years ago

“There are none so blind as those who will not see.” The idiom is aptly used here to point to our blind city and county elected officials who seem oblivious to the obvious. This potential noise maker and nuisance has no place on this Island. No cajoling is going to change that fact. No amount of balancing the desire for more revenue while reducing the quality living standards this island has provided will underwrite any decision to go forward with this woeful idea.

The City circa 1947 took control of the air facility as an airport. Since that time, rather than being content to operate an airport, the City has decided they need to make it a money maker. It is like the old saying “trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”. Some say those near the airport chose to live nearby knowing the airport with its noise was there. Similarly, the city agreed to run an airport for general aviation, not as a profit center for the city. If the airport needs more income, charge landing fees, build more rental hangers, or add any other airport related operations. A car track is not any one of these.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_55322)
3 years ago

Where is Bob Allison and his idea of a luxury RV resort when you need him?

Lyn Pannone
Lyn Pannone(@lyn-pannone)
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave Lott

Dave, that too was a grossly inappropriate project for the island. I know you’re kidding but let’s not give him any ideas to try again. No car track. No RV resort.

Chuck Hall
Chuck Hall (@guest_55328)
3 years ago

good article, thanks

Gwendolyn White
Gwendolyn White (@guest_55335)
3 years ago

We lived in Wilbraham, Mass. outside of Springfield. Close to the towns of Palmer & Ware. These are small towns, often struggling to maintain their services due to changes in industries leaving the area. These auto clubs seem to target susceptible, small town commissioners with their promises of increased income and available amenities, and super control of noise, traffic,and green space. Money talks…….and it takes doing your due diligence to avoid being overwhelmed and convinced it is a GREAT idea! They really need a bare island, far from other communities, without threatened wild life, to set up these projects. In a way, they are predators….sweet talking and bringing their high paid experts to guarantee the wonderful opportunity to be USED for their
expensive hobby. Notice where the participants LIVE. These auto clubs are not in THEIR back yards! Now is the time to study every one of these clubs before this one on Amelia is REALLY considered. We would not have been chosen if all of them lived HERE.

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