The following opinion is presented on-line for informational use only and does not replace the official version. (Mich Dept of Attorney General Web Site -
www.ag.state.mi.us) STATE OF MICHIGAN
MIKE COX, ATTORNEY GENERAL
STATE OF MICHIGAN
NATURAL RESOURCES, DEPARTMENT OF:
Application of motorboat noise limits to wind noise produced by airboat propeller
The noise limit provisions in section 80156 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act do not apply to noise produced by an airplane propeller on an airboat.
Opinion No. 7124
February 20, 2003
Honorable Patricia Birkholz
The State Capitol
Lansing, MI 48909
You have asked if the noise limit provisions in section 80156 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act apply to noise produced by an airplane propeller on an airboat. Information received with your request indicates that residents who live near the Kalamazoo River have complained about noise generated by airboats used on the river.
The Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA), 1994 PA 451, MCL 324.101 et seq, was enacted to consolidate and codify Michigan laws relating to the environment and natural resources. Subchapter 5 of the NREPA, MCL 324.80101 et seq, governs watercraft and marine safety. Section 80156, which establishes motorboat sound level standards, provides in relevant part as follows:
(1) Subject to subsection (2),1 a person shall not operate a motorboat on the waters of this state unless the motorboat is equipped and maintained with an effective muffler or underwater exhaust system that does not produce sound levels in excess of 90 dB(A) when subjected to a stationary sound level test as prescribed by SAE J2005 or a sound level in excess of 75 dB(A) when subjected to a shoreline sound level measurement procedure as described by SAE J1970. The operator of a motorboat shall present the motorboat for a sound level test as prescribed by SAE J2005 upon the request of a peace officer. If a motorboat is equipped with more than 1 motor or engine, the test shall be performed with all motors or engines operating. To determine whether a person is violating this subsection, a peace officer may measure sound levels pursuant to procedures prescribed in SAE J1970, issued 1991-92.
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(6) A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 90 days and a fine of not less than $100.00 or more than $500.00. Additionally, before putting the motorboat back in use, a person who violates this section is required to install an effective muffler or underwater exhaust system that meets the requirements of this section on the motorboat in violation at his or her expense. [Emphasis added.]
As appears from the quoted language in section 80156, the statute prohibits the operation of a motorboat engine that exceeds specified sound levels. Whether the maximum sound levels specified in section 80156 apply to other noises produced by a motorboat, namely wind noise from an operating airplane propeller, is a question of statutory interpretation.
Section 80103(f) of the NREPA defines the term "motorboat" as follows:
"Motorboat" means a vessel propelled wholly or in part by machinery.
An airboat is a flat-bottomed boat, powered by an airplane propeller projecting above the stern, and is used in shallow waters. American Heritage College Dictionary, Third Edition (1997). Information available on the Internet indicates that an airboat propeller is powered by an engine above the stern, much like a common fan. Since an airboat's engine and propeller constitute "machinery" that propels a vessel, an airboat clearly falls within the definition of motorboat as set forth in section 80103(f) of the NREPA.
Information supplied to my staff indicates that a principal sound emanating from an operating airboat is the noise produced by the movement of the airboat's airplane propeller, as distinct from its engine. Thus, while an airboat may be equipped with a muffler or underwater exhaust system that limits engine sound to decibel levels below the maximum levels established by subsection (1) of section 80156, it is possible that the noise produced by the movement of the airboat's airplane propeller could exceed those levels.
In order to ascertain the intent of the Legislature, the entire act should be read and meaning must be given, if possible, to every word of the statute. Grand Rapids v Crocker, 219 Mich 178, 182-183; 189 NW 221 (1922). Legislative intent is not to be determined from focusing on isolated words, but from the entire act. Taylor v Auditor General, 360 Mich 146, 151; 103 NW2d 769 (1960). Since section 80156 imposes criminal penalties for violations of the NREPA, it must be narrowly construed. People v Ellis, 204 Mich 157; 169 NW 930 (1918).
The first sentence of subsection (1) of section 80156 provides that:
[A] person shall not operate a motorboat on the waters of this state unless the motorboat is equipped and maintained with an effective muffler or underwater exhaust system that does not produce sound levels in excess of [the applicable decibel level under the specified sound test]. [Emphasis added.]
If the emphasized words were omitted from the statute, the specified maximum sound levels would clearly apply to a motorboat generally, rather than to a motorboat's engine. A cardinal rule of statutory interpretation requires that each word of a statute is presumed to be used for a purpose, and, as far as possible, effect must be given to every clause and sentence. Robinson v Detroit, 462 Mich 439, 459; 613 NW2d 307 (2000).
The language of subsection (1) of section 80156 emphasized above is also used in subsection (3), which provides that:
A person shall not manufacture, sell, or offer for sale a motorboat for use on the waters of this state unless that motorboat is equipped and maintained with an effective muffler or underwater exhaust system that complies with the applicable sound levels permitted under subsection (1) or (2). [Emphasis added.]
Further, subsection (6) requires a person in violation:
[T]o install an effective muffler or underwater exhaust system that meets the requirements of this section on the motorboat in violation at his or her expense. [Emphasis added.]
The Legislature has not defined "muffler" as that term is used in the NREPA. Where a word is not defined in a statute, it should be given its ordinary meaning and a court may consult dictionary definitions. Markillie v Bd of County Road Comm'rs, 210 Mich App 16, 21; 532 NW2d 878 (1995). Commonly understood, the term "muffler" means "[a]ny device that absorbs noise, especially that of internal-combustion engine." American Heritage Dictionary (1970). (Emphasis added.) In the Michigan Vehicle Code, the Legislature adopted a comparable definition of muffler as being a "device for abating the sound of escaping gases of an internal combustion engine." MCL 257.707a(e). (Emphasis added.) This definition clarifies the legislative intent to regulate motorboat engine noise.
Strengthening the conclusion that the Legislature intended to regulate only engine noise is section 80156(2)(c), where the Legislature has provided that the test of maximum decibel noise levels shall be performed with "all motors or engines operating." In addition, when section 80156 was added to the NREPA, it replaced section 113 of 1967 PA 303, the now-repealed Marine Safety Act. Section 113 addressed motorboat noise as follows:
Every motorboat being operated on the waters of this state and being propelled by a permanently or temporarily attached motor shall be provided and equipped with a stock factory muffler, underwater exhaust, or other modern device capable of adequately muffling the sound of the exhaust of the engine of such motorboat. [Emphasis added.]
Section 113 clearly addressed motorboat engine noise. Section 80156, read as a whole, likewise is intended to address engine noise. Although awkwardly worded to imply that engine mufflers or their underwater exhaust systems produce noise, when read as a whole, including the language that requires testing with all motors or engines operating, it is clear that the statute's noise limit applies to the motorboat's engine.
It must therefore be concluded that an airboat is a motorboat for the purposes of section 80156(1) of the NREPA and that the operator of an airboat may be cited for violating this statute if a law enforcement officer determines that the airboat's engine, as equipped with a muffler or underwater exhaust system, produces sound levels in excess of the specified levels. Noise produced from the movement of the airboat's airplane propeller may not, however, be used to establish a violation of section 80156(1). If there is a public noise problem associated with the operation of airboat propellers, the Legislature is, of course, free to amend the NREPA if it determines that propeller noise should also be regulated.
It is my opinion, therefore, that the noise limit provisions in section 80156
of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act do not apply to noise
produced by an airplane propeller on an airboat.
1Subsection (2) authorizes the Department of Natural Resources to establish, by rule, a different motorboat sound level test and maximum sound levels. No such rule has been adopted.