The town of New Castle is at an impasse and seems unable to form a consensus about a new leaf blower ordinance. At last week’s Town Board Work Session, board members were still uneasy about many items being considered for the proposed law. The board had qualms about much of the Sustainability Advisory Board’s latest draft submitted to the town on July 15. Apparently SAB members were unable to attend the work session to discuss the revised law, prompting the town to postpone the next scheduled public hearing on August 13 and to wait until they had a solid regulation to present to the public.
The latest proposed ordinance would prohibit the use of any fuel-powered leaf blower from May 15 to Sept. 15, but would permit blower use from Sept. 16 to May 14 of each year. Leaf blowing could happen Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to sundown; Saturday, Sunday, and Holidays, 9 a.m. to sundown. This part of the ordinance would not apply to the use of motorized leaf blowers on lots 10 acres or more and the noise level cannot exceed 70 dBA (decibels level). The law is set to take effect June 1, 2020.
In the SAB’s proposed law, exemptions would apply to town and school recreation fields, golf, swim or tennis clubs or facilities owned by homeowners’ associations. At the work session Deputy Town Supervisor Lisa Katz said, “to exempt anything over 10 acres, to me, is really putting the burden on residents who have small lots. If somebody is fortunate enough to own 10 acres or more, I hate to exempt them and not anybody else.”
Supervisor Robert Greenstein had a different perspective and suggested there be no exemptions. “We can have the seasonal ban as well as time limits that apply to residential districts. If you only focus on residential properties and get rid of all the exemptions, we avoid a lot of the controversy like the 10-acre controversy.”
There was some confusion on what the exact legislation should be. “This legislation seems like its fallen off the proverbial rails,” said board member Jeremy Saland. “I think we all have the right intention, but there are so many competing ideas about how this is going to work, and how to be fair and do what we want it to do.” For over 30 minutes, the discussion went from changing allowable times for leaf blower use for residents and commercial landscapers to varying the decibel levels.
“It’s like we’re searching for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Greenstein. “We don’t really get complaints about us [the town] blowing our fields early in the morning. What we do get are complaints from those who are out enjoying their property on a Sunday afternoon while their neighbors are blowing their property. I don’t think we need to worry about the schools, the town or commercial properties.”
The leaf blower issue has become hotly contested, pitting residents against landscape businesses who see the proposed restrictions having a negative impact on their businesses. In Greenstein’s July 16 supervisors report he floated a suggestion of a “green landscaper certification program.” The program would acknowledge environmental-friendly landscapers who meet certain requirements and would be listed on a “green landscaper” referral list.
The board didn’t discuss how the new law would be enforced. The leaf blower ordinance is different in different towns; White Plains fines up to $250 for violating their ordinance. The Town of Bedford also has a fine of $250 but that can multiply daily if leaf blowing continues. Bedford also has special rules for their hamlets limiting the use of push-behind blowers and gas powered blowers.
SAB’s research showed that eliminating gas-powered blowers for four months in New Castle would save about 135 metric tons of carbon in a year, equivalent to taking 29 cars off the road. Before the work session started, New Castle residents Kent Thomas and Sue Meany said they were eager to hear the board’s discussion on the leaf blower regulation. “We are concerned with the environment and the health issues related to the exhaust from the gas-powered blowers,” said Thomas. “Studies have shown leaf blowers disperse pollen, allergens, pesticides from lawns and dust, which then become airborne. When they are used to blow off hard surfaces all of those elements get into the run off.”