April 8 -- Activists are looking to minimize or altogether ban the use of leaf blowers in Southampton Town, at least in summer.
Activists are looking to minimize or altogether ban the use of leaf blowers in Southampton Town. KYRIL BROMLEY
Arbor is replacing Ciao in Montauk.
The din of droning motors nearby. The wafting scent of gasoline. Dust and dirt rallied from street corners and driveways, circulating in the air.These are a few of the more pronounced landscaping offenses—mostly created by seemingly ubiquitous leaf blowers—that some activists would like minimized, if not altogether banned.
“The whole character and the enjoyment of my being out there in recent years has changed, from what it had been when I first started, primarily because of the ongoing, penetrating, difficult-to-ignore noise, mostly from leaf blowers but also from landscaping equipment,” said Stephen Jones, a part-time Bridgehampton resident who is leading a local campaign targeting the use of the devices. “And if you’re there, you don’t escape it.”
For Mr. Jones, a large part of the East End’s appeal is its relative quietude. But population growth, and, with that, new homes and more properties to maintain, is quickly making this desirable aspect a thing of the past. “Right around the time I stopped working and would enjoy coming out there, I discovered that I [couldn’t] enjoy it. I’ve been driven from the yard into the house.”
He’s not alone. Communities across the country have been studying the issue and enacting restrictions or outright bans.
In Scarsdale, engine-driven power tools or motorized equipment cannot be used before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. on weekdays; on the weekends, they cannot be used before 10 a.m. or after 5 p.m. There is even a complete ban on the use of gas-powered blowers from June 1 to September 30, according to Southampton Town Councilman Brad Bender, who is examining the issue.
Locally, the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee approved a resolution last year asking the Southampton Town Board to restrict the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in the hamlet. Residents agreed that the machines are unnecessary between May 1 and September 30, since the abundance of leaves on the ground is greater in the autumn and winter months. The Town Board has yet to take action.
Mr. Bender tried to introduce legislation last year to ban the use of leaf blowers on Sundays and generally limit hours of operation for the tools, but he received significant push back from the business community. His colleagues on the Town Board would not sign on—three signatures are needed to enact a new law.
Some in the industry simply don’t see the need to add more restrictions.
“If you’re running it during normal business hours, it shouldn’t be an issue,” said Andrew Blodorn, owner of Landscape Equipment Repair in Bridgehampton.
“I think we need to look at how we can encourage the business community to look at what they’re doing and how to provide a safe, cleaner environment, not just for their clients but also for their workers,” said Mr. Bender.
Jamie Banks, executive director of Quiet Communities, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing “excessive use” of industrial outdoor maintenance equipment, has documented the pollutants and noise emitted from gas-powered landscaping machines.
Based in Massachusetts, Ms. Banks and members of this organization have been raising awareness by hosting a series of educational events and conferences throughout the Northeast, including in Suffolk County. She is helping with the local effort to inform the public about the impact the equipment can have on people and the environment.
The two-stroke lawn and garden machines “burn a dirty oil-gas mixture, emitting far more ozone-forming vapors (carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons) than automobiles,” according to a Quiet Communities pamphlet. “Their high-velocity air jets (150-280 mph) disperse dusty clouds of hazardous particulate matter,” which can be carcinogenic.
“We’re trying to educate, putting together some tools and some fact sheets, and we’re also doing research in collaboration with the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] to look at emissions from lawn and garden equipment,” said Ms. Banks. The results of that study will be presented later this month.
While educating the consumer is important, re-examining best practices is also valuable.
“What’s the responsibility of the business owner?” Mr. Bender posited. “The crew rolls up, gets every piece of equipment out of the truck, and they run all the equipment until they’re done … because that’s their job. How do we change that mindset and only use things as they need them?”
To be sure, the impact of this squad of landscapers on neighbors is palpable. “These landscape crews and the equipment that they use have been converting residential areas into industrial areas,” said Mr. Jones, pinpointing leaf blowers as particularly offensive. “And when you look at what they do … it’s amazing how useless it is. They’re blowing grass off the grass, dirt off the driveway—they’re blowing pollen off the lawn furniture.”
There are, of course, quieter alternatives, but they can impact on the price of service. Tony Piazza, founder of Piazza Horticultural Fine Gardens in Southampton, said he has a handful of high-end clients who request that his workers use rakes, brooms, clippers and the like, in an effort to reduce noise and gas pollution.
“Some have completely organically maintained properties, so their sensitivity to this stuff is already heightened,” Mr. Piazza explained.
However, the cost of this service is inevitably higher. “It’s more work, so it definitely affects the price. It could easily be between three to five times more the amount of time it could take with a blower. So you can see why the blowers are so heavily relied upon—they save so much time.”
In addition, the quieter methods, such as electric or battery-operated machines, are not as effective. “The electric-powered ones just aren’t strong enough on a commercial level,” said Mr. Piazza, adding, “I think that if there was a quieter, safer alternative, the industry would be all over it, believe me.”
Still, Ms. Banks insists the technology is readily improving. “There’s a lot of advances in cordless electric batteries,” she said. “On a blower, maybe you’re getting an hour, two hours,” on a single battery. An electric mower could last all day, she added.
Ultimately, with no silver bullet in sight, the solution will likely be a composite of changes, from adopting better lawn care practices, to using different equipment and reducing the times of operation, to simply changing one’s idea of beauty.
For example, there could be a greater “awareness that a little bit of leaf cover under scrub plantings can be good,” Mr. Piazza offered, noting that leaves can be mulched into the lawn and soil. Also, it might help “if people in general could accept a little less than perfect.”
In the meantime, advocates for change have only one goal right now—exploring all options with homeowners, landscapers and everyone in between. “These guys need to make a living, and I’m happy with that. They just have to do it a little differently,” said Mr. Jones.
“I don’t think we’re ready for [new laws] as a community, and I myself was a bit premature on the legislation,” Mr. Bender reflected. “We need to get the business community on board. Let’s look at alternatives, just as a community.”
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