Picture the perfect setting for a late summer evening wedding, with a clear sky, birds chirping - and the crunching buzzzzzzzzzz of a wood chipper as the vows are being said. It's enough to make a bride cry.
Now envision that same type of evening, with booming fireworks shattering the quiet night, so loud that they shake a house, sending a Vietnam War veteran back to the nightmare of battle. It's enough to make his wife cry.
Those are the two sides of a neighborhood dispute that has gone to a new level in Hamburg. Police have charged a West Highland Avenue woman operating the wood chipper with violating the town's noise ordinance.
Denise Woods finds it ironic that she is charged with violating the noise ordinance, when "the fireworks are so loud, they shake the house and set off my car alarm."
The dispute started last year, when the Avanti Mansion, a banquet facility on South Park Avenue, hosted two receptions that included fireworks. There was no prior warning for the adjacent neighborhood, where Bill and Denise Woods live.
Woods served in Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, in 1968 and 1969, and nearly lost his leg when a booby trap exploded.
While he has had medical problems, he never had a problem dealing with the emotional trauma of the war - until the fireworks last year.
He withdrew from the world, refused to shave and lost more than 20 pounds. The second night of the fireworks, Woods alerted his wife to the "incoming" explosives, as he had done with his buddies in Vietnam. He told his wife he felt like he was "walking point," a military term referring to the soldier who leads the advance and is exposed to the most danger. He became hypervigilant and refused to leave the house for treatment - some of the classic symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.
He improved a bit over the year, then the Woods family learned that fireworks would be set off Aug. 4. Denise Woods bought her husband some ear-protection headphones, but the shaking of their home and the smell of gunpowder reawakened his hypervigilance.
"I could tell as soon as I walked into the room and he jumped out of his skin," Denise Woods said.
Then the tables were turned: The banquet facility lodged a complaint against her because of the wood chipping.
An organic gardener, she has used leaves and wood chips as mulch for a decade. So she started her fall wood chipping a little early, cutting down brush and a tree, and feeding it into the chipper.
"I've had this chipper for way longer than they've been owners of that property," she said. "I would consider being a considerate neighbor if they would. I don't feel like being considerate anymore."
The owner of the Avanti Mansion, Laurie Clark, told police she tried to give the Woodses a gift certificate for dinner and a movie the night of the fireworks, but the Woods would not accept the offer and kicked her representative off their property.
Denise Woods said a representative of the pyrotechnics firm visited her home with an American flag for her husband and was looking for approval from the couple for the fireworks. When the man came back the next day, Bill Woods gave the flag back and told him to leave.
Clark, of the Avanti Mansion, did not return telephone calls from The Buffalo News.
Woods said she goes out to chip most days, but not during the midday sun, because it can aggravate her lupus. She starts in the late afternoon, taking frequent breaks. Sometimes it's 10:45 p.m. when she stops.
But the mechanical whine of a wood chipper is not the type of background noise wedding couples expect to hear on their wedding videos. So earlier this month,Clark complained to Hamburg police, who showed up at the Woods' home several times that evening, asking Denise Woods to turn off the chipper.
When she didn't, they ticketed her for violating the town's noise ordinance, but not before placing her in the back of a police car, she said, adding that one officer told her she was a "miserable" person. She was so scared she called the State Police, who do not get involved in complaints about a local police department. She filed a complaint with policeabuse.com, which documents and investigates alleged incidents of police abuse.
Hamburg Police Capt. Kevin Trask said the department will investigate the complaint and reach out to Woods.
"We investigate every complaint," he said. "We'll contact her when the complaint is investigated."
The town's noise ordinance prohibits the "creation of any unnecessary and unreasonably loud or disturbing noise," as well as "sleep disturbing" noises from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Conviction could result in a fine of $50 to $250, up to 10 days in jail, or both. Denise Woods pleaded innocent Monday morning in Town Court.
Last year, Denise Woods and about 70 others signed petitions objecting to the fireworks, and she appealed to the Town Board. But the town is required to issue pyrotechnic permits if the proper paperwork is submitted.
New York State allows fireworks to be set off by licensed pyrotechnic technicians, as long as the sponsor submits an application for a permit, which requires proof of insurance. State law changed in 2010 to allow fireworks permits to be issued for private events, such as parties or weddings.
"The thing that really bothers me is the fireworks and that they don't give a damn what it's doing to my husband," Denise Woods said.
"And now they take my freedom. They have the right to say what I can do with my property. Don't I have some constitutional rights here somewhere?"