Rural Jackson County Residents Fed Up With Company's Loud Tests
In a quiet, rural area of Jackson County just north of Blue Springs, residents say the typical country quiet is being routinely interrupted by massive, earth-shattering blasts coming from a nearby commercial zone.
Troy Lynn Norris says you don't hear the blasts, so much as feel them.
"Maybe it would feel like an earthquake that lasts one or two seconds. It shakes my house," she says. "If I'm looking out the window, I can see the glass vibrate."
Norris and her husband Jerry moved to unincorporated Jackson County in 2012. They needed space for their five horses and fell in love with a wood-frame house on a grassy parcel just off Highway 7. Soon after, they began hearing (and feeling) the blasts. She says they've been going on for years and have recently gotten louder, spooking her horses and putting her on edge.
"Sometimes it starts out and it's, like, all week long, maybe like every three hours," she says. "It's just so random."
Norris' neighbor, Dusty Ferrell, compares the blasts to "dynamite going off" in his backyard. He says he's recently started to see cracks in his patio, a driveway, a retaining wall, and even a window. He attributes this damage to the repeated force of the blasts. Now, he's worried about his foundation.
"If we would've known about this before we bought the houses, it would have completely changed our thought process on purchasing a home. We had no clue," he says.
Norris and Ferrell are not alone. More than a dozen other residents nearby have logged similar complaints on the private messaging app NextDoor. They report houses shaking, pets running for cover, lives interrupted. They're fed up, and nearly all of them put their frustrations at the feet of the Fike Corporation, which runs a test facility nearby.
"A distinct sound"
Fike may be the biggest metro-area company you've never heard of. The Blue Springs-based corporation produces a dizzying array of products, most meant to help prevent or mitigate the risk of industrial fires and explosions. Fike engineering can be found in everything from oil refineries to NASA space shuttles.
Fike tests its products at a 26,000-square foot site just north of Blue Springs, in controlled explosions that replicate industrial processes. A FOX Business News Channel segment from 2012 featured the test site, saying it was used for "large-scale research, product development, and application testing."
What that means in practice, often, are loud, fiery explosions that company officials admit can create a "distinct sound."
"It startles you when you hear a sound that's outside what would be considered normal white noise in a neighborhood," Fike spokeswoman Angela Trites says.
Trites says in recent years Fike has begun using bigger testing containers -- big metal boxes and spheres -- which may explain why residents like Norris think the blasts are getting louder. But Trites says acoustic studies done this year and in 2013 by an outside contractor show the sound produced by the tests are not having any "negative impacts."
"Those decibels are not any higher than a semi-truck driving by or other ambient noise in the neighborhood," she says.
In addition, Trites says, seismic studies paid for by the company show these tests are not causing "subsurface" damage to the site or surrounding areas. Fike, however, would not let KCUR see these contractor reports.
A call for more transparency
Melissa Bolles is irked by what she sees as Fike's lack of transparency.
Bolles lives near Troy Lynn Norris and Dusty Ferrell and has similar complaints as them. Regular window-rattling blasts and emerging cracks in a concrete wall supporting her patio make her fear permanent damage is being done to the home her and her husband bought two years ago to celebrate his retirement from the Air Force.
She says she and her neighbors have tried to get answers from Fike, going so far as to walk up to the test site's fenced-off perimeter and talk with workers. But so far, she says, they've heard nothing.
She compares that to the different approach taken by another loud neighbor: the government-run Lake City Army Ammunition Plant, which tests weapons like Gatling guns.
"Lake City sends us a letter whenever they do stuff because they know what they do affects us," she says. "Fike doesn't send us a letter saying, 'We're doing this.' And we don't have town meetings, either."
Her request has urgency. Bolles and her husband Shane, a retired Air Force veteran who served in Afghanistan, say the blasts can sometime trigger flashbacks of his time spent in the war zone.
"In Afghanistan, we were constantly having bombs go off. You'd be woken up by a blast or a shockwave or something," Shane Bolles says. "These blasts: it's the same thing. It freaks me out."
Blue Springs is "exploring options"
Feeling ignored by Fike, residents complain frequently to the city of Blue Springs, which says the company is not violating noise ordinances with its tests. The test site is also zoned for heavy industrial use, says Kim Nakahodo, a Blue Springs spokeswoman, though many parcels adjacent or near to it are residential.
City officials say they are "exploring options" about how to resolve the issue. Dusty Ferrell, worried about his home's foundation, says that must start with Fike acknowledging the impact the tests are having.
"We want them to own up to the damages they've caused, and that's basically it," he says. "Maybe try to reduce the size of impact if they're going to stay. If not, maybe they need to look for somewhere else."
Indeed, Fike has floated the possibility of building walls to dampen the sound of the tests or moving the test site, possibly to Lee's Summit, Fike's Trites says. City officials suggest that would be an economic loss to Blue Springs if one of its largest, oldest employers moved part of its operations.
Melissa Bolles says that puts her and her neighbors in an uncomfortable situation.
"We have to suffer, so the community can have Fike, I guess," she says. "You know, if you get rid of them, people are going to hate us. But in another respect, our house is getting destroyed."
There is a routine conference call later this month between Fike officials and the city of Blue Springs. On the agenda: the blasts from the test site. Not on the agenda: any relief for nearby residents.
Peggy Lowe contributed to this report.
Kyle Palmer is KCUR's morning newscaster and a reporter. You can follow him on Twitter @kcurkyle.