By Martin Wilbur and Abby Luby
After nearly three years of debate and revisions, the New Castle Town Board unanimously approved a law regulating the use of leaf blowers in town Tuesday night.
The full impact of the legislation will not take effect until next year because the use of gas-powered leaf blowers will be prohibited from June 1 through Sept. 30. The rest of the year, gas-powered blowers can still be used, including during the fall leaf season.
Supervisor Ivy Pool said passing the legislation to become law was a first step. “I believe that this local law, is reasonable, readily understood, and enforceable. It’s a meaningful step forward, in our ongoing effort to demonstrate progress in reducing emissions and it addresses the noise and the quality of life concerns we have been hearing from residents who are working from home during the pandemic.”
Initially, the town had looked to prohibit the gas-powered leaf blowers but received pushback from some residents and landscapers.
Officials are hopeful that more residents begin using the environmentally friendly and quieter electric and battery-powered blowers. However, the board recognized that the technology is still evolving and residents on larger lots and professional landscapers need more power than electric blowers can currently provide.
Councilman Jason Lichtenthal had reservations about the new law. “The proposed local law has, unfortunately, been watered down in taking a small step in meeting its environmental goals. For a few months of the year, people will need to use electric leaf blowers most during the time when leaf blowers are minimally needed.”
Some of the points of the legislation closely mirror New Castle’s noise ordinance regarding hours of operation and maximum noise levels. Leaf blowers can be used from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Sunday and holidays.
Lichtenthal pointed out that the law didn’t specify any upper limits for sound decibel levels for leaf blowers during the allowable hours of usage. “Other domestic tools like lawn mowers kick up particulate and create significant noise pollution, which is not addressed,” he said.
Deputy Town Supervisor Jeremy Saland sided with Lichtenthal that the resolution was imperfect. “But the town has the responsibility to take small steps with future laws on leaf blowers. Each of these steps may be a small block in a foundation that ultimately, for future generations, will have to be progressive and move towards a sustainable future,” Saland said.
Town Board member Lisa Katz thanked the SAB (Sustainability Advisory Board) for their hard work in helping to craft the law. She also thanked the opponents of the law saying, “Your comments on this made it a better law than initially proposed. I expect that the law will evolve, and I think this is a good start.”
SAB member Rand Manasse thanked the town for its persistence and thoroughness. “It’s been a long process and makes the legislation all the more important to limit the use of these devices that adversely affect the health, environment and quality of life of the residents of the town,” Manasse said.
Exemptions from the law include the Chappaqua School District’s and the town’s recreational fields and tennis courts, tennis courts at country clubs, homeowner associations and swim clubs, golf courses and cemeteries. The law also states that use of motorized leaf blowers may be permitted on certain properties where there is a safety concern as determined by the town administrator.
SAB Chairman Steve Wolk had previously said members of his board studied the issue of the harmful effects of gas-powered leaf blowers and the large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions that the machines produced. He said some people don’t believe the law goes far enough but there is no perfect legislation and this is a step in the right direction.
“The changes will be minimal as residents recognize that commonly accepted aesthetics take a back seat to health concerns, and the new look of cut grass left on the lawn becomes the look of people who care about the environment and realize that they get the added benefit of having a healthier lawn,” Wolk said.
Board member Lauren Levin admitted that two or three years ago she wouldn’t have voted in favor of the new law, but she has since changed her mind. “I think the technology has arrived for electric leaf blowers. I would also support a buy-back program from a budget line for town board special projects, and help our residents to offset these costs,” Levin said.
A buy-back program or other financial incentives to encourage residents to relinquish their gas-powered blowers for electric or battery-operated equipment has been generally supported by the board.
Pool shed light on the bigger, universal picture of taking a role in cutting carbon emissions to slow climate change.
“This is actually Climate Week, 2020,” she said. “Five years ago, 195 countries signed on to the Paris Agreement for Climate Change, a landmark for climate action. Along with the SAB, we agreed to locally uphold the Paris Agreement by taking proactive, meaningful steps to reduce emissions and demonstrate consistent progress over time. The town of New Castle has remained deeply committed to climate justice.”
Pool emphasized the town’s commitment to a robust implementation of the new law by coming up with an enforcement strategy that includes raising awareness for residents and the landscaping industry.
“Adopting the legislation is the easy part, the hard part is what comes next. Implementation. And that begins right now,” Pool said.