[OPINION] Landscapers Group Joins Leaf Blower Ban Buzz

As a proposed leaf blower ordinance makes its way through the Representative Town Meeting, many residents are making noise.

Some want it enacted, for peace and quiet. Others oppose it, because it limits the times they can tend to their lawns.

One group has been noticeably silent: the leaf blowers themselves.

The other day, they weighed in. Here’s what the Connecticut Grounds Keepers Association — a non-profit serving “landscaping firms and their allied manufacturers and distributors” — says:

A proposed ordinance is working its way through Westport’s RTM committees pertaining to the use of leaf blowers. While the concept of decreasing noise is a noble and worthy cause, the execution and language of this ordinance is problematic at best.

One issue with this ordinance involves the time window given to use gas or electric leaf blowers. If you were to use even an electric leaf blower at 5:01 p.m. or later to clean the patio or clear your driveway, you could be subject to a $249 fine from Westport’s Conservation Department.

This means that commuters who find themselves stuck on the train or in traffic past 5 p.m. will be unable to ever use any form of a leaf blower during the work week.

Additionally, if your landscaper happens to use a gas-powered leaf blower between May 1 and October 14, you as the homeowner could be subject to
that $249 fine.

Furthermore, the reporting mechanism written into this ordinance encourages
neighbors to videotape one another and document leaf blower usage for submission and assessment of citations and fines.

Another issue with the proposed ordinance involves the selective targeting of landscape professionals.

This ordinance allows unrestricted use of gas-powered leaf blowers on town owned property and publicly or privately-owned golf courses.

During the recent RTM Health Committee meeting, some individuals expressed concern about the emissions and dust from leaf blowers for the operators and
bystanders. It is hypocritical and unjust to restrict gas powered leaf blowers for homeowners and landscapers, but condone and encourage their use by town employees and contractors who Westport is
liable for.

The burden of compliance for this ordinance lies solely with landscape professionals and you, the homeowner. While battery-powered landscape equipment is an adequate solution for many homeowners with small yards to maintain, the equipment isn’t ready for high-volume professional use.
This is confirmed by the exemptions of public works employees and golf courses.

The cost of compliance to a homeowner may be in the hundreds to purchase an electric leaf blower, but the cost to landscape professionals is in the thousands to outfit their entire team.

If electric leaf blowers were so much better than their gas-powered equivalent, they would have already been adopted and used en masse by the industry and the town.

Electric leaf blower.

The progressive transition in the powering of lawn and landscape equipment
should be allowed to happen as technology advances and becomes economically feasible for implementation by small business owners.

This ordinance has not yet passed. Since the stated goal was to achieve a quieter environment for Westport, a reasonable solution would be to determine acceptable working hours in residential areas, rather than restrict equipment use.

Furthermore, setting zero emissions equipment goals will certainly be dealt with at the federal level soon, and should not vary from one town to another.

The Connecticut Grounds Keepers Association

(The RTM’s Finance, Public Works Committee, and the Environment Committee, have met about this bill. The Ordinance, Parks & Recreation and Public Works  Committees have meetings next week. The entire RTM will consider the proposal on October 11.)

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25 responses to “[OPINION] Landscapers Group Joins Leaf Blower Ban Buzz

  1. A few of these caveats are worth the ink to print…the one that is controlling, though, is the one pointing out that noise, fumes and dust created by by the town as it pretties up golf courses and parks is OK…the town is the biggest polluter, the earliest a.m. noise maker and the least concerned with policing its own flagrant abuse of its ordinances…therefore, the ordinance before the RTM is, de facto, without merritt.

  2. Valerie Seiling Jacobs

    Let’s be clear: gas leaf blowers (GLBs) are toxic—for people, for animals, and for the environment. The fine particulate matter, benzene, and other stuff they spew is carcinogenic. In an ideal world, they would be banned completely—as they are in Scarsdale, Larchmont, Washington DC, and lots of other places. But, after the huge pushback last year—including from our own town employees, the RTM sponsors realized that that they would have to water it down to get the necessary votes—so the ordinance is now “seasonal.” GLBs will still be permitted for 11 weeks in the fall and 6 weeks in the spring!—with NO restrictions on weekends or the number that can be used simultaneously. Yes, there will limits on hours and holidays—but that is only fair to the neighbors who might want to sit outside and enjoy their own yards. This proposed ordinance represents huge compromise—but here’s the thing: the landscapers are STILL complaining. Worse, they are peddling a pack of lies, from the idea that they need these machines in the summer to blow grass clippings (absolutely not true), to the idea that there are no backpack battery blowers (not true), to the claim that battery equipment is too weak and expensive (also not true). “Just give us a few more years,” they keep saying. But we don’t have a few more years—the planet is at Code Red and Westport’s air quality is already terrible. Last year we had 21 days where we exceeded the ozone level set by the EPA. On 8 of those days, we had the highest levels in the state. And this year is shaping up to be equally bad. Do we really want to tell people that they must stay inside just so that landscapers can continue this environmentally unsound practice? Do we really want to allow them to continue to poison their workers and residents just so that they don’t have to invest a dime in greener equipment? It’s time to say enough.

    • All true, Valerie, but let us not blame the “landscapers.”They are only doing what the folks paying ’em want em to do…blowing grass clippings is stupid on many levels, but let us not blame the doer, let us blame the doee.

  3. Daryl Styner-Presley

    I too would like more noise control during the spring, summer & fall. But, battery power is not where it needs to be, yet, to create ordinances. If it were, then everyone should have to live with the same rules. That would be equitable. Clearly defining hours right now is the route to take, NOW.

  4. Stacy Prince

    Humans can (and in this case should) adapt. Clinging to the way things are/were instead of looking a few miles ahead is just puerile. Is the ordinance perfect? God, no: Giving the Town a pass is a total joke. Is that a good excuse not to start trying to limit “cosmetic” use of fossil fuels? Also no. Seriously: Grass clippings are just not worth the airborne carcinogens and greenhouse gasses. (P.S. I’d really love to be able to enjoy my patio and vegetable garden in peace.)

    • Maureen Cavallo

      You call going backwards to the era of manual raking “adapting”? Seriously? Sounds more like regressing…

      I would also love to enjoy my patio in peace, and would support shutting down the Levitt Pavilion. That venue emits far more noise pollution across town all summer than the occasional leaf blower.

      I also would love to enjoy Compo Beach in peace and would support making it 18 and older. All those kids playing around with their screeching laughter emit so much noise pollution. Just let me read my book and enjoy the sound of waves crashing.

  5. Dan, thank you for publishing this. I think we all agree that we want Westport to be green and sustainable. But the proposal before the RTM is bad legislation on many fronts, not the least of which is that enforcement pits neighbors against neighbors. History is not kind to societies that encourage people to turn on each other. Westport should not be that town. What we CAN and SHOULD do is change the ordinance to encourage people to “go green.” ENCOURAGE the use of lawn machines that are electric (corded or battery powered). The U.S. has a proud history of encouraging people to move in directions that we want, such as tax credits for investing in wind and solar and even buying electric vehicles. Even Connecticut this year implemented a $500 rebate for residents who buy electric bicycles. By discarding the punitive mentality and switching to an ordinance or even just a municipal program that encourages use of “green” equipment, we would make quick and sustainable progress in achieving our environmental goals. It’s not too late to make this pivot.

    • Sorry but I strongly disagree with the notion that this ordinance “pits neighbor against neighbor.” If anything THAT is the status quo because noise does not recognize property boundaries . The real issue here is whether neighbors can be respectful of each other with regard to this high decibel disturbance, recognizing we all live together in a community, not isolated parcels. Let’s finally get this passed.

      • Mark Mathias

        Evan, enforcement is when neighbors turn in neighbors. That pits neighbors against neighbors. That’s how the ordinance is written. I agree that neighbors should be respectful of others. But to single out leaf blowers when other yard machines, such as lawn mowers, are frequently louder than leaf blowers simply makes no sense. My point of the comment is that the ordinance should not proceed and the Town could put in place an initiative to encourage people to buy and use electric yard machines.

  6. Susan Iseman

    Ratting on fellow citizens – are we getting cues from crazy Texas governor abbott? We have battery powered blowers for quick cleanups and the landscaper we hired uses them as well. (Mow Green!) Some folks are just not going to adapt. I see it daily not only with the gas powered equipment that are everywhere you look, but with the sickening number of drivers who sit in their gas powered cars idling for unacceptable amounts of time. I’ll repeat the story I have shared here before (probably more than once, sorry.) I was inside a market for at least 30 minutes. The woman parked next to me, who was alone in her vehicle was still idling when I came back out. I pointed this out to here and she looked at me like I had 3 heads. The weather was acceptably comfortable, she just didn’t care to shut down her engine. Not only is this rampant, it’s illegal in CT, just not enforceable. Shame on the town for not using more green equipment. Our air quality is pitiful. Why isn’t there signage in parking areas regarding the idling?

  7. Werner Liepolt

    So we’re all agreed: running gas powered leaf blowers causes physical harm to those running the equipment and all those nearby—physical harm including permanent loss of hearing from constant loud noise, respiratory problems from pollutants emitted at extremely high level such as asthma and lung cancer.

    And we shouldn’t feel bad about stopping those who make money off this.

    And we shouldn’t be upset or angry with people who want to continue with this.

    And it’s okay to let the Town of Westport do this.

    Because…? (That’s the part I missed. )

  8. Edward Bonham

    This is unjust legislation.

    I have lived in Westport for 28 years and raised my kids here and now grandchildren, and I do not see this as a priority for the town and here is why:

    Over the next five to ten years, Westport is going to have to spend up to $300 million on infrastructure for government buildings as they are beyond useful life and need immediate upgrading. This includes two schools, fire departments and most importantly our police department.

    Our focus should be on committing the tax dollars from our citizens towards top quality infrastructure.

    Second: the current noise ordinance, from what I remember reading today and 28 years ago, is still the same. So whose room say, I have to buy an electric leaf blower, but cannot use it after 5pm, but I can use my: weedwhacker, chainsaw, hedge trimmer, lawnmower, snowblower, hack saw, concrete drill or Jack hammer? Two stroke or four stroke, I can still use it! But not my leaf blower.

    I am semi retired, and to decrease overhead budget, I do my own yard work (but also for exercise and to get out of my house, happy wife happy life) and I have a small lot. Why am I going to pay someone for something I can do, but also, tell them how to do their job?

    There was no campaign to this ordinance! No signage, no residents asking “no mo blow,” like in Virginia, or, I have an idea, put your money where your mouth is! Buy your landscaper an electric leaf blower!

    It’s the “I have no idea what your job is, but my website I am currently reading says you are doing it wrong!” I worked in finance for 35 years, I would never tell someone whose a firefighter, a cop, an a electrician, how to do their job!

    Also, landscapers offered no Sundays, 9-3pm on Saturdays, and even a 2025 or 2026 promise like Netzero 2050…and it was ignored!

    Shoving personal opinions and research without actually doing research is not how local politics is suppose to intrude on peoples lives who struggle and work for a living, especially those who have been doing this for their whole life or just started last week, and are already feeling the pain of this ridiculous inflation.

    Sure, let’s add more insult to injury with government oversight and over extension.

    Also, the 40 products available…first off, it’s not even half that are available, secondly, they are not commerical grade, and, grants for R&D has been completely redirected to automotive.

    And then lithium, it’s mined through the use of fossil fueled equipment and hazardous environmental drilling and mining. An unstable element, the emissions to mine it are higher than it is once produced and sealed…and then disposal, it’s a “hazardous” material that requires separate containment, a licensed specialist to remove it and take it apart…where does it go? An undisclosed place to live out its extended shelf life.

    Great article Mr. Woog.

  9. Greenwich CT has the following ordinance on the books: “No person shall operate or permit the operation of any gasoline-powered leaf blower between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. Monday through Friday and between 3:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m. Saturday, Sunday and Holidays. Commercial and/or residential property parcels of one-quarter (1/4) acre or less may only be serviced by one (1) gasoline-powered leaf blower at any given time. Premises located in the Town of Greenwich may only be serviced by one (1) gasoline-powered leaf blower, at any given time, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, inclusive.” If Greenwich can do it , why can’t we ?

    • Wendy Batteau

      I’m pretty sure you know, but I thought others might not: that’s far from the ordinance currently proposed for Westport.

  10. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to do everything to save our environment. This will put a huge financial strain on some of the smaller landscapers. Have we used all the $ we got from the federal government as maybe we could help out some of these smaller guys?
    Do we have starting dates yet and what about mowers? Do those need to be replaced too?

  11. Donald Bergmann

    The analysis presented by those who oppose this very modest ordinance for me confirms the desirability of this ordinance. I ask all to look at the objections and test them to see if they truly justify a “no” vote. The only issue that somewhat resonates with me is the 5:00 p.m. time limit imposed for the use of any leaf blower by a resident. Most likely that will be addressed if that is the reason this ordinance will not pass. Unfortunately, CT law does not allow the ordinance to apply differently to home owners. CT law does allow the exclusion of the Town, even though pretty much all of us who support the ordinance had hoped the Town would join us to achieve this very important step for Westport and its residents. It is time to accept some change and that requires affirmative actions to accomplish something respecting our environment.

    • Mark Mathias

      Don, I always enjoy your comments and we clearly see this differently. Your comment: “this very modest ordinance for me confirms the desirability of this ordinance” piqued my interest. This ordinance relies on neighbors to turn in neighbors who they accuse of violating this ordinance. I hardly consider that “very modest.” Furthermore, if a sound ordinance is wanted, the RTM should create a sound ordinance. If they want an environmental ordinance, the RTM should enact an environmental ordinance. This ordinance does neither well. Since we want people to “go green,” rather than penalize them, encourage and support residents and landscape businesses to invest in electric yard machines. That creates a model we can be proud of, moves us towards our Net Zero by 2050 goal and eliminates the fundamental problems with this legislation.

  12. Wendy Batteau

    A couple of points:
    First, the aim of this proposed ordinance is worthy, but the details of the ordinance present several problems, some noted above. Another important one is that it places the burdens on the workers – often low-income and otherwise disadvantaged – rather than on the manufacturers of the equipment. Environmental legislation should whenever possible affect the cause of the problem: here, manufacturers should be required to “perfect” and produce zero-emissions equipment. The legislation in California and now New York requires the phase-out of sales of all gas powered yard equipment (note to CT state legislators: other states say they will follow), obviating the pitting of neighbor against neighbor in the process. They are progressive; the proposed Westport ordinance is regressive.

    Second, Westport’s Planning and Zoning Regulation 32-7.1 states: 32-7.1
    Any use which is toxic, noxious, offensive, or objectionable by reason of the emission of smoke, dust, gas, odor, or other form of air pollution; or by reason of the deposit, discharge, or dispersal of liquid, solid or toxic waste, in any form, in a manner or amount so as to cause damage to the soil or any stream or to adversely affect the surrounding area; or by reasons of the creation of any periodic and/or abnormal noise, vibration, electro-magnetic or other disturbance perceptible beyond the boundaries of the lot on which it is situated; or by reason of illumination by artificial light or light reflected beyond the limits of the lot on, or from which, such light or light reflection, emanates; or which involves any dangerous fire, explosive, radioactive or other hazard, or which can cause injury, annoyance, or disturbance to any of the surrounding properties, or to their owners and occupants.

    Since Planing and Zoning has jurisdiction over land use and enforces their regulations, it would probably be a better idea to tailor this one – in cooperation with P&Z – than to create yet another rule that is problematic in itself.

  13. From what I have read, this ordinance is extremely flawed. First, can we try not to forget, professional landscapers have a very limited window of opportunity during the year to make their living and feed their families.

    I agree, I am often frustrated sitting on my front porch at the end of a full day’s work, hoping to enjoy the warm air and sunset, in peace and quiet, when a neighbor’s vendor pulls up at 6 PM to cut their lawn. Since I’m not the one pushing the mower at 6 PM after a very long, hot Summer’s day filled with back breaking work, who am I to discourage them from earning a living?

    While I believe professionals should have the right to work 7 days a week in the Summer (should these choose too) a better approach would be to monitor noise hours.

    I believe ALL noise, from professionals or weekend warriors, including but not limited to; chain saws (with the exception of emergency work after a storm) all gas and electric equipment, such as mowers, hedge trimmers, leaf blowers, chippers, etc., should be limited to the following hours;
    * Monday – Friday, ALL noise will be permitted from 8 AM until 6 PM.
    * Saturday and Sunday, All noise should be limited to 11 AM until 4 PM.
    Quiet work such as weeding, planting, fertilizing, hand trimming, etc., can be performed anytime, without restriction.

    The notion of “filming and turning in your neighbors” is just plain creepy, very Germany 1933-1945.

    Forcing professionals to make a significant capital investment in electric equipment that is not yet efficient, shouldn’t be mandated by any community, unless the community is ready to subsidize those purchases. Of course that will never happen, I just wrote that to be cute and demonstrate what a financial hardship that would be on any small business.

    And NOT applying these same restrictions to Town owned property or golf courses, how is that remotely fair?

    To be clear, I have been discussing noise restrictions for years. I am in favor of limiting the hours of operation, particularly on weekends, by both professionals and weekend warriors. Noise is noise, regardless of who is creating it. However, what I have read about this potential legislation sounds sophomoric and ill-conceived. I say, go back to the drawing boards and start over.

  14. As per Consumer Reports Testing Labs recently published information. Fact: There are at least 2 professional battery-operated backpack leaf blowers as powerful as gas models.

    Fact: They don’t cost any more then Gas models to purchase
    Fact: they don’t pollute
    Fact: They are more reliable
    Fact: they are cheaper to maintain
    Fact: They are less noisy
    Fact: There is no need to blow leaves/grass except of walkway safety which can be raked/brooked
    Fact: Mulching leaves & grass is beneficial to the lawn. Ive been doing that for 40 years.
    Fact: we can improve or Lives, air & noise pollution, make our lawns better just by doing what is smart.
    Fact: I’ve been using Battery Lawn equipment for about 10 years and am delighted to see the new long lasting batteries.
    Where is the guidance from our elected & appointed town officials to make sense of this?
    If you want a better future for Westport Incentivize not penalize

  15. Deb Rosenfield

    I am all in favor of limiting the noise from these machines. My house is surrounded by 8 houses and just when you think the noise has stopped, another crew pulls up to do yet another house. It would probably be a nightmare of a project to coordinate, but perhaps neighbors can start using the same landscaping service and get all of the houses in a small area done the same day? Or even 2 days per week, max. They might even be able to negotiate a better price if, say, 6-8 houses signed on. Living with the noise for only one or two days per week would be a massive improvement.

    And while I’m at it, I’d like to see a town regulation that requires a neighbor to notify other neighbors, within 250 feet, at least 24 hours before powerwashing a house, walkway, patio, fence, anything. The noise and vibration from powerwashing is overwhelming. Doesn’t need to be outlawed, just give neighbors a chance to get away from the noise, or to be prepared for it. And to get their poor, noise-stressed pets away from the noise, as well.

    And, last, my house is about 1/3rd mile from the Levitt Pavilion and from my patio, which faces the Levitt, I can hear ALL concerts so clearly that I can hear when performers talk between songs. I can even hear when the singers are off-key. Yet, last night, I didn’t hear a single bass, talk, song from the Cyndi Lauper concert. Not a note. It was perfectly quiet on my patio. I don’t know how this was done but it just goes to show that it IS possible (although I would have liked to hear a few songs last night). Someone please find out how this noise attenuation occurred last night and make the people who run the Levitt do this all summer. I have a recording of the concert from July 29th, taken while sitting on my patio, if anyone needs proof of how loud it can be.

  16. David Cleveland

    Frankly one of the 2 primary reasons we moved after 39 years was the noise. Landscapers with 5 blowers going on a quarter acre lot. All around our house. It was infuriating

  17. Sheila Vesciglio

    Get the pacifiers out and pop ‘em in Westport’s mouth… if you want clean mountain air, move to the mountains… you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.