The battle to restrict the use of gas-powered leaf blowers took an unexpected turn when the Greenwich Department of Health made a surprise decision after a brief special meeting yesterday.
The Health Department voted unanimously to repeal the town’s noise ordinance which, until this vote, had fallen under its control.
(b) Noise generated by engine-powered or motor-driven lawn care or maintenance equipment shall be exempted between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. provided that noise discharged from exhausts is adequately muffled to prevent loud and/or explosive noises therefrom.
Those in favor of restricting gas-powered leaf blower usage, including Quiet Yards Greenwich (QYG) and Greenwich Democrats, were surprised by the decision which would actually extend the daily hours of operation for the devices by four hours because the state ordinance is more lax than the Greenwich ordinance.
Critics, however, blasted the plan to restrict usage, arguing that the costs would be prohibitive for small, often minority-owned businesses and saying that the alternative, electric leaf blowers, are cost prohibitive, impractical and not ready for commercial use.
One local landscaper, Brett Atkinson, said, "the technology is just not there for this equipment."
He explained that electric blowers barely last 25 minutes on a full charge, and require at least one hour or longer to recharge the battery. He figures he would need to purchase at least 7-8 batteries and chargers to be able to operate each electric leaf blower.
But where does the electric come from to charge the batteries? Homeowners? Or would landscapers also need to buy gas-powered generators to charge the batteries?
Speaking of cost, commercial electric leaf blowers are priced around $1,500 per unit, as compared to $600 for a commercial grade gas-powered leaf blower. The battery is sold separate at $1,200 per unit. Atkinson estimates the switch to all electric would cost his small business over $100,000, and obviously result in bigger bills for consumers.
Plus, there is a shelf life on the batteries, and over time they hold less of a charge, so they would need to be replaced on a regular basis, thereby increasing operating costs.
Worse is the fact that electric batteries cannot be recycled, and just end up in a landfill.
Atkinson, who is part of the Greenwich Groundskeepers Coalition of local landscapers, said that another issue contributing to the noise from leaf blowers stems from landscapers operating illegally who are unfamiliar with the ordinance.
That's why Atkinson proposed a permitting system to ensure that every landscaper is legitimately licensed to operate in Greenwich, has proof of insurance, understands the ordinance, and so forth. He thought this would be a reasonable first step to take before any arbitrary restrictions are set on just gas-powered leaf blowers. Especially considering gas-powered lawn mowers and weed whackers generate noise, too.
He expressed frustration regarding his interactions with the representatives from QYG who seemed uninterested in the very real issues presented by Atkinson and the Groundskeepers Coalition.
He even purchased three electric leaf blowers to test out the technology.
Within one week, two out of three leaf blowers were broken and in need of repair. But the only shop that fixes electric leaf blowers was at least a 45-minute drive away.
So the $100,000 expense to switch to all electric could conceivably run even higher if he has to anticipate downtime from broken machines.
Atkinson said the Greenwich Groundskeepers Coalition tried to articulate these issues to the QYG folks, but they seemed to already have their minds made up, and ignored the Coalition's insights.
He also questioned the research used by QYG to back their plan, and suggested they aren't making legitimate arguments rooted in fact.
This sentiment was echoed by Joel Muhlbaum, the Chair of the Board of Health, at yesterday's meeting. He said the Board carefully considered the data provided by QYG, but the data didn't demonstrate why health risks stemming from gas-powered leaf blowers would justify a five-month ban as opposed to a complete ban.
Muhlbaum said they found, “no conclusive well-grounded scientific data providing medical evidence of noise related health risks to the population specifically associated with gas powered leaf blowers alone.”
He further said that ceding control of the noise ordinance offered the RTM "a clear and unencumbered pathway to crafting its own RTM governed noise ordinance."
Alexis Voulgaris, the current RTM moderator, indicated that indeed, "the RTM retains the ability to adopt ordinances.”
But until the RTM makes a move, Hartford is in control.
The next RTM meeting is set for December 11th, and it's sure to be lively as it's the last meeting for current RTM members.
The newly-elected RTM members will be sworn in during the January meeting.