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Why is VIMC Still So Noisy?

You'd think the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit (VIMC) would be on their best behaviour these days. After all, with their recent rezoning application, residents will finally have a voice in the decision-making process. Without sufficient community support, the planned expansion to triple the size of the current track might not get approved. And given the prominent role that noise pollution will play in the public conversation, you'd think they'd start demonstrating just how quiet they can be.

Yet just this morning, residents of Sahtlam were treated to another cacophony of race car noise (see videos of today's noise down below). The noise was heard from the Cowichan Trail just west of the Chinese Cemetery (by a runner wearing headphones and listening to an audiobook!), at the Tansor Gas Station, and by neighbours living as far as River Valley Road (approximately 9 km away). This is far from an isolated incident: such disturbances happen with distressing regularity.

After all this time, we have to ask: Do they still really not know how loud they are?

You'd think they would tone it down a bit in preparation for the public consultations, meetings, and hearings that will soon be taking place as part of their rezoning application. After all, how is the public to believe they will be quiet after they've expanded, when they can't even keep quiet on their current site?

It's hard at this point to believe that they are still ignorant of their impact on the surrounding neighbourhood. They've had a trackside noise monitor for months, and we know they have at least one monitor in the neighbourhood as well. Last fall, they hired Wakefield Acoustics to measure the noise impact (albeit on a deliberately quiet day) and presumably provide them with some instructions on how to maintain reasonable noise levels. More recently, they hired BeSB - an internationally renowned motorsport acoustics firm from Germany - to conduct a detailed noise modelling study that includes real-life data from the existing track. As part of this process, BeSB mapped the local topography and acoustical environment and identified key areas in the surrounding neighbourhood that would be most impacted by track noise.

With months of monitoring, continuous complaints of noise, and all this expert noise evidence they've been gathering, how is it that they are still regularly blasting the neighbourhood with excessive noise? It would be easy to say "they just don't care". And perhaps that is true. But given the self-serving attitude they've held since Day 1 of this ordeal, it doesn't make sense that they would continue to generate excessive noise knowing that they will soon be required to stand up in front of the public and promise they will be quiet. On the other hand, perhaps they are so convinced that their application will be approved, they see no point in limiting their operations now.

But there is another explanation, and one that lies at the heart of the rezoning application: perhaps VIMC is simply unable to limit noise to acceptable levels without seriously impacting their business. Consider that VIMC is a private club, and members pay tens of thousands of dollars to join, plus thousands more in annual dues. Those members mostly came to VIMC in the opening months (membership sales have plummeted ever since), when the issue of noise was thought to be moot. Well, it turns out that the private member vehicles are some of the worst offenders for noise.

The Radical, which is co-owned by two club members, has a very distinctive whine to its engine that travels widely across the area. The two Camaros owned by another member (an amateur race car driver who practices at VIMC) are also well known to local residents. And while this latter member has actually tried to address the situation by putting mufflers on his vehicles, he's at the limit of where muffling begins to seriously compromise vehicle performance (and yet still manages to be very loud). How is VIMC going to say to these members: "Sorry guys, you just can't drive your vehicles on our track anymore; they are too loud"?

And because membership sales have been so disappointing (less than 50 memberships have sold out of an initial offering of 500), the track has had to make up for lost revenue by holding Track Days for local racing clubs. Whether it's a motorcycle club (like the one that visited on September 28), Speed Fanatics (a fast-car enthusiast group out of Vancouver), or the Slow Drivers Group (an ironically named speed club out of Victoria) - having multiple vehicles on the track makes for one heck of a racket. What effect would saying "no" to this additional income stream have on VIMC's bottom line?

Our point is this: perhaps VIMC is still making excessive noise because they have no choice. If their business model is such that they've backed themselves into an acoustical corner, then does it really make sense to grant them permission to expand before they've figured out how they are going to operate moving forward? After all, the business has only been in operation for 15 months, and the original plan to sell 500 memberships now seems wildly optimistic. Shouldn't we give them time to figure out how to make money without making so much noise? And BEFORE they are given permission to expand from 46 acres to 280 acres?

Oh I'm sure they will promise us, the Mayor, and all of North Cowichan council and staff that they will be quiet after the new track is built. But if they can't demonstrate that now, why should anybody believe them?

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