Connell considers repairing noon whistle

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 6, 2013 

CONNELL -- For decades, high noon in Connell was announced with a piercing whistle. But three years ago, it fell silent -- the wires accidentally cut during a remodel of the old firehouse.

"I remember that day. As soon as the wires were cut, the whistle sounded and it took 20 or 30 minutes to get it turned off," said Larry Turner, public works director for the city.

Mary Hall, owner of Connell Pharmacy, just a few doors down from the whistle tower, remembers it too. "It was deafening," she said.

With that whistle silenced, the city began sounding the fire whistle at the city's fire hall on the south end of town at noon.

But that's when complaints began coming in to City Hall. Some people in the city of about 5,000 residents north of Pasco even threatened lawsuits, said Mayor Gary Walton. Last June, he pulled the plug on the firehouse whistle.

A few months ago, Connell residents -- pro whistle and con -- began circulating petitions and attending council meetings arguing for and against reinstating the noon signal.

It's up for discussion again at tonight's 6 p.m. council meeting at city hall, 104 E. Adams St.

"This is the third discussion we've had about the whistle," Walton said.

The firehouse whistle is "on a 20-foot tower and is near a lot of houses where parents have younger children. It was waking them up from naps and waking people who work rotation shifts because of the Department of Corrections," Walton said. "The whistle, both of them, disrupt business meetings too. They were so loud you'd almost drop to your knees."

Turner had Total Energy Management in Richland work up a quote for repairing the original whistle, which is a surplus Civil Air Defense warning device from Hanford. Cost for a timer and installation would be $850 plus tax.

According to city council minutes, those who are against the whistle said the decibel level can damage hearing, it wakes up sleeping shift workers and babies and generally is annoying.

Two Connell residents, Bob Widows and Bob McCurry, have spoken out at council meetings about silencing the whistle. They weren't available for comment Tuesday by phone.

McCurry said at the Dec. 5 council meeting: "What public good comes from the whistle? It is annoying and dangerous to people's hearing."

He suggested the question of reinstituting the noon whistle be put in voters' hands.

A quick phone survey Tuesday by a Herald reporter found several Connell residents adamantly in favor of fixing the original whistle, while others were on the fence.

Workers at the Ed Poe Agency had no opinion one way or another; neither did Vanai Nuntananusit, owner of the Mei-Ling Inn restaurant. Both businesses are well within earshot of both whistles.

"As a businessman I have to remain neutral," Nuntananusit said. "But I've been here 28, 29 years and it hasn't bothered me and my customers haven't complained. They just say, 'Oh, must be noon,' and go on eating."

Carol Lindner, one of those working on a petition to reinstate the original whistle, is a lifetime resident of Connell. She and her husband, John, own the Old Hardware Store downtown.

"I've heard a couple of people complain it kept babies awake, or if working the graveyard shift that it woke them up. But I've had people in my store who say their kids sleep through it, that it didn't bother them," she said.

A noon whistle, Lindner said, "is a tradition in small town America. It's apple pie, baseball and noon whistles."

Hall said she grew up in a small town in New York that still sounds a noon whistle.

"I think it has historic value to a lot of people. Farmers working out in the fields heard the noon whistle and knew it was time to hightail it for lunch or take a break. It gave them a time frame for the day," she said.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

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