Collettsville residents divided on flood sirens
The 40 or so people who came to the Collettsville Fire Department Thursday night to get more facts about new flood-warning sirens in the Wilson Creek area seemed fairly split on whether they would be a life-saving boon or a wailing intrusion into their tranquil community.
Several residents sounded off during the meeting, which got contentious at times.
"What you don't understand is we moved into the forest for a reason," said Kathryn Parfait, who lives along the creek. "We don't want to hear the bells and whistles and the horns. I wouldn't have a problem with what you are doing if you put the sirens where people are dying. This is the people you are trying to protect."
Five clusters of sirens, which are not yet operational, have been erected at Edgemont, Mortimer, the Wilson Creek Visitor Center, the Deer Horn campground and the Brown Mountain Beach campground, covering an 8-mile stretch of Wilson Creek. The sirens are designed to be set off in case of a flash flood or tornado warning. They will also sound off test blasts once a month for 10 seconds. The sirens are supposed to be able to be heard 3 miles away.
Dennis Coffey, a resident of Edgemont, said the biggest concern among the 42 members of his homeowners association is the volume of the sirens.
"Our biggest fear is how loud these things are going to make us jump out of bed in the middle of the night," he said. "After we hear this test sound, it might not be as loud as we think."
County officials pulled out all the stops to allay concerns and convince any detractors that saving even one life is worth the 120-decibel devices. The county's emergency management director, Robbie Wilkie, attempted to demonstrate the sound by standing outside the building, 200 feet away, and blasting his bullhorn.
"The sound (of the flood sirens) will actually decrease and progress out across the area," Teague said. "It won't be 120 decibels on out, it will be maybe 90 decibels on out."
Not all were convinced.
"If you want to hear what a 120-decibel siren sounds like, go on YouTube," said Greg Duncan, who owns Walker's Country Store near the Brown Mountain Beach Welcome Center. "Anything above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss in a child. He (Kenneth Teague, Catawba County assistant emergency management services coordinator) compares the sound to a leaf blower at 140 decibels. I don't know of any leaf blower that can be heard three miles away. I'm not buying that. It's a quality of life. I don't want to have to close down my business, take my daughter out of Collettsville School, quit my church. I'll do it if I have to."
Some residents, such as Ron McDaniel, are in favor of the sirens. McDaniel spent time with a distraught family in July as rescuers searched Wilson Creek for their 10-year-old daughter, whose body eventually was found, as was the body of a 48-year-old family friend.
"The sirens may be loud, but I don't want to have to go through what I had to that night," he said. "If this thing will save one life, it's worth it."
"That siren is a great thing," another gentleman said. "I think it will be a great asset to the community."
Caldwell County is only the second in the state to use such sirens. They were installed in the Lake Lure/Chimney Rock area in 1999, and since then the area has had no flood-related deaths, Teague said.
The sirens will be operational next month. The county is considering adding sirens in the Johns River area in the future.