Guest editorial: Drag racing just isn’t compatible with the surroundings

Neighbors around Elma Airport object the racing noise

By Denny Martin

I take exception with the Sept. 22 article entitled, “Lawsuit filed against county aims to keep drag racing.”

As a resident of over three decades next door to the Elma Airport, I have a much different understanding of the details of the racer’s denial.

First of all, the “lawsuit” mentioned in the article, is really a formal appeal to the decision denying the request to race on the runway at the Elma Airport, and I, along with the many neighbors, aviators, Vance Creek Park users, and fishermen here, are thankful our county zoning laws prevailed.

The promoters proposed races every weekend, Saturdays and Sundays, all day long, from April through October, right outside the homes of longtime homeowners, and nearby Vance Creek Park. This is an unreasonable request shared by any homeowner, I dare say. Ironically, none of the promoters live near the airport.

Last year, the race promoters embarked on a mission to circumvent the county zoning laws and bamboozle the long-time neighbors of the airport.

Here’s how their plan unfolded:

Step 1. They acquired an email for sani-kans, from the county health department that has no ability to give permission to race, and saved it.

Step 2. Raced all summer, ignored neighbors telling them the noise was deafening, and unbearable in their homes surrounding the airport.

Step 3. When the county finally stepped in and made racers go through the due diligence involved in asking permission to race on property not zoned to normally race on, they produced the sani-kan email and said it was synonymous to permission.

Step 4. When the email was shown for exactly what it was, (Sani-Kan Permit) they became angry, and argumentative with the county employees and say they were biased toward them. They claimed they were disseminating malicious information, for warning the Board of Adjustment they are angry and argumentative.

Step 5. In response, the county hired (at considerable taxpayer expense) a hearing examiner from Pierce County that has absolutely no knowledge of the goings on here on Grays Harbor, to appease the racers feigned anger.

Step 6. Go through the hearing. Both sides present arguments. The examiner tells the racers, that the law says you can’t run people out of their homes with loud noise in residential zones, and that drag racing creates a nuisance to the residents, and safety hazards to aviators, and even produces too much noise for the surrounding wetlands and denies the request.

Step 7. Now, the Appeal I spoke of earlier. Not a lawsuit.

After the racers tried asking for forgiveness, instead of permission, they now blame everything else but the law for their request being denied. They accuse a county employee of malice, they are angry at the residents who live around the airport for wanting quiet homes, and they claim the misinterpretation of several laws and cases cited by the hearings examiner, (Who comes to us very highly acclaimed in his rite of hearings examination).

In my quest to understand the drag racing plight, I became very interested in exactly what the criterion for a private drag strip in western Washington needed to, “be compatible.”

Here’s what I found:

All of the operating drag strips within driving distance for local enthusiasts are either totally isolated, meaning no homes within a mile, or, the homes that are present, came after the drag strip was established, as with the Grays Harbor Raceway. The race tracks have to have been established prior to the state’s maximum allowable noise laws, to have homes next to them. The exception being the city of Forks. Forks handles the nuisance noise, and high insurance costs by treating racing as an “event” and limiting the races to one weekend per month, in June, July, September, and October. What’s wrong with that?

The Elma Airport is surrounded by homeowners and is home to many aviators. The county park is less than a quarter mile away with fishing, regular bike races and other events year round. Elma Airport is not compatible with the residential and recreational uses of the surrounding lands and the sensitive wetlands that surround it.

The idea of racing all summer after giving the impression they were only having an event, and then complaining when they were told to comply with the law, is like a child asking permission to go to a school dance, but instead, going on a five-day drunk, and after getting caught, blaming the parent for letting them go to the dance in the first place. Also, blaming the brewery for the hangover. Makes no sense.

The Conditional Use permitting process clearly demonstrates the permit is first acquired, before the requested use takes place. Technically, there is no try it first, then ask permission later clause. Our county acted extremely benevolently toward them.

I believe I speak for most of the residents who live around the airport when I say we hold no ill will toward the race promoters. We only want the law to be followed, and our lives back. We were here first.

Denny Martin is a resident of Elma