ATLANTIC CITY — If any attraction at the Steel Pier has the ability to induce screaming, it’s The Rocket, a slingshot that catapults riders 225 feet in the air.
In southern New Jersey, amusement parks measure their success largely in the volume and quantity of these shrieks. The pier is getting six more thrill rides next year, each designed to wow visitors.
“We’ll have people scream on the kiddie rides,” Director of Operations Tony Rossi said. “You’ll get screams on any ride — of joy.”
But not everyone in New Jersey has the same appreciation for the thunder of roller coasters and the chiming of carousel music. In the nation’s most densely populated state, more amusement parks are fielding complaints from neighbors about noise.
The state Senate passed a bill Thursday amending the Noise Control Act of 1971 to exempt amusement parks and carnivals from local noise ordinances. The Senate amended the bill Thursday to include beach bars.
Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, said the bill applies to all amusement parks but was designed to address a particular problem in northern New Jersey where new condominiums were built next to a theme park. Van Drew is a co-sponsor of the bill with Sen. James Whelan, D-Atlantic.
The exemption applies to all carnivals, beach bars or amusement parks built before August of 2011. Amusement parks would not be the same without their distinctive sounds, said John Maurer, president of the New Jersey Amusement Association.
“Can you imagine a Merry-Go-Round with no music? People are paying $2 and $3 to go on a thrill ride. The sound is a big part of it,” he said.
In Atlantic City, Steel Pier has the advantage of being buffered from residential neighborhoods by the Boardwalk and its casino hotels.
“You get a lot of noise from the guests. We can’t do much to control that,” Rossi said. “We do try to keep control of our sound levels. We check the public-address speakers periodically to make sure they’re not obnoxiously loud. We keep an eye on it.”
Ocean City is home to two parks, including Gillian’s Wonderland Pier.
Pier owner and Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian said he has been following the bill since its introduction this year.
Even established parks such as his encounter occasional noise complaints from time to time, he said. But when new developments crop up around parks in New Jersey, it can be especially hard to keep the peace, he said.
“They build these nice places near amusement parks or other noisy places and want us to shut down at 9 o’clock at night,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. There’s no common sense.”
Gillian said ride manufacturers are working to reduce noise pollution. But parks are inherently noisy, he said.
“We always take the neighborhood into consideration. But at the end of the day, you can’t stop the kids from screaming,” he said.
Gillian opened a second amusement park in Sea Isle City in 2009. Sea Isle, too, has a strict noise ordinance, especially when it comes to loud parties.
But Gillian said guests of the charter boats typically make more noise at Fish Alley than his park off JFK Boulevard, which caters to younger children. Both parks benefit from having a buffer of open space or public buildings between them and the nearest homes.
“Every now and then, someone will move into the neighborhood and say, ‘It’s keeping me up at night,’” Gillian said. “It’s a seashore resort. It is what it is. At the end of the day, people know what they’re moving next to. They have to take some responsibility for themselves.”
The bill is going back to the state Assembly for consideration.
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