Stand anywhere outside Steve Layman's house in rural Leavenworth County and you'll hear the constant drone of a diesel engine far off to the south.
It's the sound of a sand dredge operating on the Kansas River, about a half-mile south of the southern edge of his property. At times, it operates 24 hours a day. And on those nights, he says, he and his neighbors often can't sleep.
But even if he couldn't hear the dredge himself, Layman says it wouldn't take long to figure out it was running because his cattle get nervous and immediately move as far from the sound as possible.
"Normally cattle are real docile," Layman said last week as he walked among his small herd, including some that have just calved. The dredge had just restarted operations a couple days earlier after being idle since December.
"When it first started, all they would do is walk, and they'd go to the far north side of the pasture to get away from it," Layman said. "They wouldn't even go down to eat hay if it was at the south side of the pasture."
Penny's Aggregates Inc., which operates the dredge, is applying to Douglas County for a conditional use permit so it can move out of the river, onto dry land on the south bank, where it hopes to operate a pit mine.
Douglas County commissioners are expected to make a final decision on the permit application when it meets at 6:35 p.m. Wednesday at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.
The proposed sand pit has been hotly debated for months, at both the Lawrence-Douglas County and the City of Eudora planning commissions, as well as the county commission. Last month, two of three county commissioners, Mike Gaughan and Jim Flory, appeared to reach agreement to approve the permit, subject to a long list of conditions.
Layman says he and his neighbors are hoping that strict limits on noise coming off the dredge will be one of those conditions.
Currently, Layman said, neither the county nor the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulates noise from the dredge because the dredge is on the river, which is the jurisdiction of the Corps.
"The Corps of Engineers doesn't deal with sound," he said. "They deal with river dredging; they deal with (river) banks; they deal with everything else. OSHA (the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration) deals with sound as far as the employees of the workplace are concerned. But transmitted sound, or 'fugitive sound,' which this is called, no one deals with."
Also during the 6:35 meeting, commissioners will hold a public meeting to discuss a proposal by Pinwheel Farm, 1480 North 1700 Road, to hold agritourism-related events that could draw more than 100 people, the limit under new agritourism rules adopted by the commission. The first such event is the Sheep Shearing Open Farm Day, scheduled for Saturday, March 16.
Prior to the 6:35 meeting, the commission will meet at 4 p.m. to consider routine items and other issues not expected to generate public comment. Among them is a request by the county's Emergency Communications Department to waive normal bidding procedures and negotiate with Spillman Technologies, for the design, purchase and implementation of computer-aided dispatch, mobile and records management services. The project cost is estimated at $800,000 to $1 million.