Noise Problems Could Silence Ice Skating Rink By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday October 07, 2005

City officials are trying to figure out a way to keep Berkeley Iceland open past today (Friday) when the rink’s latest extension to install a temporary ice cooling system expires. 

Iceland has brought in a portable system, but city officials say it is too noisy to install at the rink, which is in a residential South Berkeley neighborhood. 

Under an agreement with the city, Iceland was supposed to operate the temporary cooling system until April, when it would be required to complete upgrades to its permanent system. 

Both sides are meeting Friday morning in an effort to find a compromise that will keep the rink open. 

In July the city ordered Iceland to shut down its permanent cooling system and pump out the 4,200 pounds of ammonia. The Fire Department said the system lacked key safety features and contained too much ammonia for firefighters to control in the event of a major leak. 

Iceland’s temporary system has the required safety devices and holds a mere 750 pounds of ammonia, but it produces 83 decibels of ambient noise, the equivalent of sitting inside an insulated tractor cab, said Assistant Fire Chief Gil Dong. 

The city’s ambient noise ordinance prohibits consistent noise in residential neighborhoods above 45 decibels, the sound of rustling leaves, according to Dong. 

Iceland, which has been a fixture at Milvia and Ward streets since 1940, produces 67 decibels of ambient noise from its permanent cooling system. Since Iceland preceded the noise ordinance, it has been exempt from the law, said Manuel Ramirez, Berkeley’s manager of environmental health. 

Ramirez said that if the temporary cooling system produced ambient noise no higher than 67 decibels, the city would have allowed it. But since it is louder, Ramirez said the City Council would likely have to approve a variance for Iceland to operate the temporary cooling system. 

Dong said the Fire Department was willing to give Iceland another couple of weeks to operate its permanent cooling system, if it appears that the temporary unit will meet city codes.  

Already the fire department has granted Iceland two extensions to install the temporary system, which was supposed to be in place by Aug. 22. 

Iceland General Manager Jay Wescott was not available for comment Thursday. He told the Daily Planet recently that Iceland had sound engineers trying to dampen the noise of the temporary system.