Revisions to New Castle’s proposed leaf blower legislation were unveiled last week that would allow gas-powered units to be used during the fall but would prohibit their use from June through September.
Sustainability Advisory Board (SAB) members Tracy Stein and Rand Manasse presented findings to the Town Board last week to seek a compromise following a contentious public hearing last fall. The originally-proposed measure would have prohibited all gas-powered blowers by May 2021 and would have prohibited the use of any leaf blower, gas or electric, from May 15 to Sept. 30.
Most Town Board members have said they would like to follow the lead of a growing number of communities throughout Westchester and the United States in cutting down on carbon emissions and noise but also wanted to address concerns from landscapers and large property owners who argued that electric blowers aren’t strong enough to replace gas-powered machines.
Stein said that while some models of gas-powered have reduced levels of carbon emissions, they are still a menace to the environment.
“The SAB believes that a law to address gas leaf blowers, a machine driven by dirty fossil fuels, is a concrete, important and accepted way for a town to seek to reduce emissions consistent with our mission,” Stein said.
There would be exemptions not only for town and school recreation fields but for golf, swim or tennis clubs or facilities owned by homeowners’ associations.
Elimination of gas-powered blowers just during the four months in New Castle would save about 135 metric tons of carbon in a year, equivalent to taking 29 cars off the road, according to SAB research.
Worries that should the leaf blower legislation be approved, would turn off prospective home buyers in New Castle have not materialized in other communities, Stein added.
Supervisor Robert Greenstein said it’s possible the law would have a beneficial effect to bringing new families to town.
“Being a green town is actually going to attract some people,” Greenstein said. “If anybody is not going to live here because we have a ban on gas blowers in the summer, I say, ‘See ya.’”
Stein said there are 14 municipalities in Westchester that have leaf blower restrictions on the books and many others in California, Massachusetts, the suburbs of Chicago and Washington, D.C.
“If it’s sustainable in other communities it can be sustainable here even if it has to be tailored for this town,” said Councilman Jeremy Saland.
Councilwoman Hala Makowska said she had concerns that the cost could hurt some homeowners, particularly those on larger properties. Some people can afford more to landscape their property, but not everyone.
“If it’s $25 a month (extra), $30 a month, it’s great,” Makowska said. “But if it ends up being sort of significant to people, that has to be a concern.”
Concerns that it would take longer to clean a property and end up costing more haven’t materialized in other communities, Stein said. Property owners can leave the grass clippings on their lawn during the four-month period, which is healthier for the grass, she said.
Manasse said that the landscaping companies in municipalities that have passed similar laws have competition with each and would adjust.
It was pointed out by one resident that officials should consider getting rid of the exemptions. If the law is good then there don’t need to be exemptions, it was argued.
“The original intent was that playing fields could be exempt but we didn’t feel we should be affecting a game of the health of somebody on a field like that by keeping leaves on that field,” Manasse said.
Donald Benz, a landscaper who has an extensive number of customers in New Castle, said having to use two sets of different blowers would be financially problematic. Electric leaf blowers, which could cost $500 each without batteries and chargers, are still much weaker than the gas-powered units.
He suggested the town outlaw the high-powered gas blowers that workers put on their backs and allow the smaller hand-held models.
“You do need them to a certain point in the summer,” Benz said. “As a professional, there’s curb appeal, you need to blow. Some of my customers want that and that’s their expectation.”
The Town Board is expected to vote Tuesday night to set a public hearing for Tuesday, June 11.
If eventually approved, the law would take effect next June 1, allowing the town and SAB time to educate residents on the change.