City councilors approved the second reading of a noise ordinance amendment that bars people from making noise 20 decibels above ambient noise level in the city.

Councilors had previously voted to allow only 10 decibels above ambient noise level, but after discussions at their March 16 meeting they decided it was not high enough and raised it to 20 decibels.

People are prohibited from making noise louder than 20 decibels above the ambient noise level for an average of not less than 5 minutes. City attorney William Kelly recommended that city officials talk with an expert about how to read the decibel meter and the ways it spikes when reading noises.

A number of activities have exemptions in the updated ordinance, including recreational activities like hunting and using recreational vehicles, and commercial activities like noise from tugboat engines and fishing boat engines, among others.

The Belfast Police Department will enforce the new provisions with a warning for the first offense, a $400 fine for the second offense, and a $500 fine for each subsequent violation within a one-year period. Local musicians who play musical instruments on the sidewalk will probably be in violation of the ordinance unless they obtain a permit.

While the ordinance update applies to all people in Belfast, it was passed in response to a Sunday protest group that often uses a bullhorn in rallying against mask mandates. Protest organizer Kaleigh Stanley is concerned that the ordinance will not be enforced fairly.

“This is an obvious attack on our First Amendment rights. And I can almost guarantee that this ordinance will only be applied when the City Council disagrees with the messaging,” she wrote in an email. “Will BLM be held accountable when they break the rules? What about the summer nights concerts and other events in town? I think not.”

The group has not been gathering consistently on the corner of Main and High streets lately, but Stanley said they will be gathering at sporadic times again soon.

Kelly said the council might need to change the amendment a little as it begins to be implemented.