Leaf blower ban fails to pass RTM

An August ban on gas-powered leaf blowers is not to be after the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) shot down the Board of Selectmen’s proposed test.

At its final meeting of the summer Monday night, the RTM voted by a 76-93 margin with four abstentions to not approve the proposed ban, which the selectmen had approved last month. While some homeowners have been extremely vocal on the issue for decades, the voting members indicated they felt it was not something that needed to be addressed by the town, even for a test period.

Under the proposed ban, no gasoline-powered leaf blower could have been used within the town by any person or entity during August. This would have included electric leaf blowers that use gas generators as power sources, but there were numerous exemptions included from the ban including schools, religious institutions, private clubs, golf courses, hospitals, retirement communities and cemeteries. The intention of the selectmen was to have the ban be put into place for August and then be sunsetted out so its impact could be evaluated before future steps were taken.

Now, however, there will be no test and the homeowners who supported the ban are not happy. Gretchen Biggs, founder of Citizens Against Leaf blower Mania (CALM), was incredulous that the RTM voted as it did and said that she didn’t have many options left except to consider moving.

During debate on the ban, Ms. Biggs said this was a health issue that impacted her and her children as well as other homeowners in town. She said this ban was “20 years in the making” and overdue for passage.

“Where I live, the cumulative effect of the leaf blowers makes it so I can’t spend any time in my yard,” Ms. Biggs said. “I love gardening and I can’t spend any time in my yard. I have three children and I don’t want them outside and on the street because there are so many leaf blowers in the denser parts of Greenwich going on any given day that it’s a real detriment to the quality of life here.”

Ms. Biggs and other CALM supporters noted that nearby municipalities, including Rye, N.Y., have full summer bans on gas-powered leaf blowers and have reported improvement in pollution, noise and other quality of life and health issues. Other RTM members also cited health concerns like asthma and noise issues as a reason to support the ban, with several saying the limited month-long test was an ideal way to see how effective it would be before any further steps were taken.

“This is a 20-year saga,” RTM member Christine Edwards said. “I was dumbfounded that it’s taken so long. What’s happened in the meantime is that many of our neighbors have a leaf blower ban like Yonkers, Hastings, Greenburgh, Bronxville, Larchmont and more. It would be wonderful to see us participate in the kind of leaf blower ban they have in place which is from June 1 through Sept. 30. We think this is brand new and courageous, but 20 years have gone into looking at this.”

“This is just a test,” Peter Malkin, a member of CALM, told the RTM. “It’s a test to see whether this will make a difference in our lives, our health, our environment and our enjoyment of the town. It’s really, really time to do this and see if it works.”

However, others on the RTM expressed doubt it was as big a problem as Ms. Biggs and CALM member claimed it was. Doug Wells, chairman of the body’s Legislative and Rules Committee, said there were only 76 members listed on the CALM website, with 13 of them living out of town.

“That means there are only 63 members saying this is a ‘townwide problem’,” Mr. Wells said. “That’s about one tenth of one percent of the community. My concern here is that this is a few influential people that are seeking this change in our ordinance.”

Mr. Wells asked his fellow RTM members to vote on whether this was a real problem and, judging from the final vote, they did not. He said it was wrong to compare this ban to bans on speeding and using cell phones while driving because “those endanger all of us” and he felt the use of leaf blowers did not.

“Philosophically I don’t think we should have an ordinance that fines people and tells then what they’re going to do on their property when it doesn’t endanger anybody else,” Mr. Wells said.

RTM member Christopher von Keyserling said he worried about enforcement. Had the ban been passed it would have been up to the Greenwich Police Department to enforce it and even though the department has said publicly many times it would be able to handle this, Mr. von Keyserling said he didn’t want false alarms depleting police resources.

“We have 11,000 false alarms in this town and 90 or so emergency calls for ambulances, not to mention all the things that go on in this town like speeding and cell phones that people want to have tended to,” Mr. von Keyserling said. “Quite frankly I don’t think our police have the time nor would I wish them to have the time to spend to enforce this ordinance. If someone I love dearly is hurt, harmed or killed because the responding police officer is on a noise ordinance call, I think I would sue the heck out of the town.”

The ban did have support from town Conservation Director Denise Savageau and the Conservation Commission. The commission issued a letter that called it a “welcome first step” and that summer was a good time to try it because it was after spring cleanup and before leaves started falling.

RTM member Jim Boutelle said it was unfair to homeowners, though, to have the town mandating what could or could not be done on their private property. He specifically noted comments Ms. Savageau read in the letter about homeowners using leaf blowers to have manicured landscapes, in his words, “…As if that is a bad thing.”

“As a homeowner I’m dying to have a green lawn,” Mr. Boutelle said. “I’m fighting grubs right now. I don’t have a gas-powered leaf blower. I have an electric blower vac for mulches and I put the mulch back down. But this is the first step… All I’d say to our Conservation Commission is ‘Don’t demean me for wanting to have a green front yard.’”

This was the final RTM meeting until September so the decision closes the book on a ban for this year. A ban could potentially be discussed for next year, but the selectmen had expressed reluctance to deal with the issue again if the RTM did not act in favor of it. CALM and other proponents had urged for longer, more stringent bans so this measure had already been viewed as a compromise.


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