Leaf blower ban heads to RTM: Marzullo cautions against ‘sabotaging it’

Greenwich is poised to enact a total ban on gas-powered leaf blowers for the month of August, but only if it passes through the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) in time.

An ordinance calling for the one-month ban passed unanimously through the Board of Selectmen last week and is now headed to the RTM for consideration at its June 11 meeting. However, that’s where timing becomes an issue. The RTM will adjourn for the summer after that meeting and if the ordinance is not approved, it would not be heard until September. Since the selectmen wrote the ordinance to expire in July 2013, that would essentially render the ban moot.

While the RTM’s Legislative and Rules Committee worked closely with the town attorney’s office in drafting the ordinance, the question of whether it will get through the body in time will remain open until the June 11 meeting.

Under the proposed ban, no gasoline-powered leaf blower may be used within the town by any person or entity during August. This includes electric leaf blowers that use gas generators as power sources. The ban would not impact town properties, as town workers would be covered under an exemption that will also cover schools, religious institutions, private clubs, golf courses, hospitals, retirement communities and cemeteries. There is also an exemption for construction activities where leaf blowers might be used such as driveway repaving and sealing, roof repairs, emergency repairs and cleanup from storms.

Those exemptions do include a caveat, however, in that the use of gas-powered leaf blowers must be “minimized to the maximum amount practical in proximity to residences” when they are allowed at all.

Violators of the ban would receive a warning and education for a first offense, a $100 ticket for a second and a $249 ticket for a third or any subsequent offenses. The $249 level was set because any fine at a $250 level or above is considered a misdemeanor offense under state law and would mandate a court appearance. Violators of the proposed ordinance would not have to appear in court.

The Greenwich Police Department would be tasked with enforcing the ban.

This ordinance is the result of work by a Board of Selectmen task force chaired by Selectman Drew Marzullo earlier this year. A group of town homeowners have long sought a ban on the gas-powered leaf blowers, calling them a health risk due to both noise and air pollution from overuse.

The group Citizens Against Leaf blower Mania (CALM) has called for a total ban from May through September, arguing they were only really needed during select portions of the year. That brought them into conflict with both area landscapers, who argued that the leaf blowers are both necessary and carefully used by them to prevent pollution, and the town’s Parks and Recreation Department, which uses the machines to clean town properties.

Mr. Marzullo’s task force heard from both sides and the month-long compromise was the result. However, residents seeking a longer ban said the proposal is insufficient. At the May 24 selectman’s meeting, Mr. Marzullo urged the upset citizens to not try and stop it before the RTM and for anyone who wants a ban to speak in favor of it.

“I know there are those who believe an August ban did not go far enough,” Mr. Marzullo said. “We hear from them regularly. But, if approved, it’s the first step and then in a year we can re-evaluate. I caution those in favor of a six-month ban not to sabotage the August ban because if this fails next month then good luck trying to bring it back. That will be very difficult to do.”

Gretchen Biggs, founder of CALM, told the Post they would not oppose the ordinance.

“We are the ones who have been seeking a ban, so why would we work against it?” Ms. Biggs said in an e-mail to the Post. “Obviously, it’s not as long a period as we asked for and people will barely get used to it being in effect before it’s over, but it’s still better than nothing. I have never heard of a town or city, out of the hundreds who have leaf blower bans, that has a ban for only one month. Every other town that limits blowers seasonally limits them for at least Memorial Day to Labor Day. It is unfortunate our selectmen have recommended an extremely short period, which is riddled with exemptions, so that whatever impact the ban will have will be very, very minimal.”

Despite their reservations, though, Ms. Biggs said CALM members support the ban and believe it’s a start and that a reduction in air pollution, particulate matter and noise for August is “something to be thankful for.”

The ordinance is set to expire one year after it’s enacted, meaning it would be in effect only for this coming August. The selectmen would then be able to evaluate the impact of the ban before deciding if it needs to be adjusted in any way or ended.

First Selectman Peter Tesei held off on commenting about the language of the ban except to acknowledge the “lengthy discussion” that went into its development.

“We’re going to see what effect, if any, this will have and we will have something to talk about come the spring,” Mr. Tesei said.

Both Mr. Tesei and Selectman David Theis thanked Mr. Marzullo for his work chairing the task force and for developing the ordinance, and Mr. Tesei also credited Assistant Town Attorney Aamina Ahmad. Mr. Theis said he hoped that soon manufacturers of leaf blowers would “take heed” of consumer complaints about them and develop new, quieter technology.

 

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