As Gas Leaf Blower Battle Rages, Health Board Considers Repeal of Noise Ordinance

Greenwich’s Dec 11 RTM agenda includes a second read on proposed gas powered leaf blower restrictions, and the topic is blowing up the internet.

A Wall Street Journal article on Nov 23 about Greenwich’s proposed restrictions on gas powered leaf blowers opened with a quote from Greenwich resident Monica Prihoda, who took the podium at the Oct 23 RTM meeting and memorably belted out, “Roar, Roar, Roar,” mimicking the jarring noise of gas powered leaf blowers in her neighborhood.

The article had hundreds of comments, many making fun of Greenwich residents and their so-called luxury problem – as if everyone here lives in a mansion with a vast lawn.

But just as many commenters commiserated about the noise and pollution, and pointed out that if passe, Greenwich wouldn’t be the first to phase out the machines.

An article in the Times of London was short, but highlighted the same points, including that since the pandemic more people work from home and find it difficult to concentrate with gas powered leaf blowers roaring outside their windows.

Several other nearby municipalities have already taken the lead.

In Jan 2023 Westport became one of the first town in the state to limit the use of gas-powered leaf blowers. From May 15 through October 15, gas-powered handheld and backpack leaf blowers may not be used on Sundays or holidays; after 3:00pm on Saturdays, and before 8:00am or after 6:00pm on weekdays  – except for homeowners doing their own yard work or using an electric blower. Beginning in 2024, gas blowers will be banned between May 15 and October 15 each year.

The city of Norwalk voted recently to enact summer limits, with gas-powered leaf blowers banned from June 1 to Oct 15 and from Dec 15 to April 1, starting in 2024.

Their ordinance includes language to fully ban gas-powered leaf blowers year-round by 2028.

But today, it seems all eyes are on Greenwich, maybe because of the misperceptions about wealth and everyone having a big yard.

The noise of multiple gas powered leaf blowers is arguably more annoying in the R6 (multi-family) zone where yards are a fraction of an acre, and two or three gas leaf blowers operating near a property line can be right under a neighbor’s windows.

Elizabeth Dempsey from Quiet Yards Greenwich said in an email, “For many, the effort to restrict gas leaf blowers is about more than improving the quality of life for those lucky enough to have lawns.”

“Yes, it is about constant excessive noise that is unnecessary. But for some it is also about improving the air we breathe. Two-stroke gas leaf blowers are 300 times more polluting than ordinary cars. It is about protecting the health of our residents from some of the most carcinogenic compounds identified by national health agencies. It is about worker safety. When entire states and 200+ communities nationwide, as well as 31 neighboring towns have adopted similar rules, it’s time for a sober assessment about why Greenwich is falling behind.”

As for the landscaper opposition and economics of gas versus electric, Ms Dempsey pointed out that most landscapers in the area are not experienced with the new, powerful electric blower models.

She described the health and economic benefits of going electric as a “win-win.”

“All-electric landscapers have been operating in Greenwich for years using electric blowers exclusively for heavy spring and late fall clean ups,” Dempsey said. “Fortunately, the financial benefits are clear. The cost of using electric blowers was 20 cents per hour vs. $1.10 for gas blowers even before Eversource reduced our electric rates by over a third in July and again for January 2024.”

Over the past week, dozens of residents have used the all 230-member RTM email to share their opinions on the leaf blower proposal prior to the Dec 11 RTM meeting, with the majority favoring the proposed restrictions.

But on the GFP Facebook page, the comments have been mostly from people vehemently opposed to the restrictions.

There is no telling how the RTM will vote.

Last minute twist

With the RTM meeting less than a week away, the Board of Health may make the vote moot.

The Board of Health’s meeting agenda for Thursday, Dec 7 (virtual only, via Zoom at 3:00pm) features a single item: Repeal the town’s noise ordinance altogether.

“Discuss and vote on the repeal of the Noise Ordinance (Town of Greenwich Code of Ordinances Chapter 6B-Noise), which currently is under the purview of the Board of Health, in its entirety.”

It is unclear why the Board of Health would move to repeal the noise ordinance, but they have not exactly been fans of the the Quiet Yards Greenwich proposal.

Last June they voted down the Quiet Yards Greenwich proposal, to the disappointment of a large crowd of residents in the town hall meeting room who supported the effort.

“They claim that the use of gas powered leaf blowers is an immediate health hazard. However, they are proposing to allow their use several months out of the year,” said Board of Health vice chair Dr. Sarah Gamble, referring to the Quiet Yards Greenwich group. “We do not recognize a health hazard on a part-time basis.”

Instead the Board of Health voted to create a registration program for landscapers with gas leaf blowers, a re-education program, and to have their subcommittee continue to review ordinances in Fairfield County and the State DEEP Noise control regulations with an eye to further restrictions in the existing noise ordinance.

Just before the vote Board of Health chair Joel Muhlbaum brought up the issue of enforcement, saying there would need to be “buy-in” from Greenwich Police because they would be in charge of enforcing the ordinance.

Then in October, at the RTM meeting where Ms Prihoda roared, Board of Health vice chair Dr. Sarah Gamble urged the RTM to let her board continue to study the issue.  

“This has taken 11 months for us to slog through, and we’re not done,” she said. “I take my job seriously. If they’re bringing this forward as a health hazard, then it is our job to research that and come to a good conclusion. We’re still working on this. Every meeting we mention it. My subcommittee is still in active contact with each other.”

Dec 11 RTM meeting

The proposed resolution says, “Resolved that chapter 6b Noise of the Greenwich code of ordinances be amended to restrict use of gas powered leaf blowers from May 1 to Sept 30 in order to promote the healthy enjoyment of homes and yards by Greenwich residents.”

The resolution was referred to the Health & Human Services committee, Legislative & Rules and Land Use Committee.

Here is the link to the call and zoom invitation. Note: The Dec 11 meeting will not include newly elected RTM members from the Nov 7 election. New members will be sworn in at the January 2024 full RTM meeting. (Term runs from January 2024-December 2025).