GROUP LETTER: Health Board’s Actions on Noise Ordinance Were Egregious; Chair is No Hero

Submitted by Glen Canner, Lindy Lilien, Joan Thakor and Lucy von Brachel

We are writing in response to the astonishing letter on Jan 22 by the Chair of the Board of Health (BOH) Joel Muhlbaum, congratulating the town for its passage of a noise ordinance with greater limits on gas leaf blowers and taking credit for facilitating the passage of this law.

Why is this letter so astonishing?

Because this same Board of Health spent years thwarting efforts to establish summer gas leaf blower limits. When Quiet Yards Greenwich approached the BOH with dozens of studies documenting the health risks posed by gas leaf blowers, the BOH invented a new standard for evaluating the evidence: they demanded proof of an “imminent health threat.”

No such standard exists for the Health Department, which also regulates swimming pools, nail salons, and restaurant kitchens.

After the Board of Health unanimously voted against a proposal for summertime limits in June of 2023, Quiet Yards appealed to the RTM for a vote. The BOH strenuously opposed this move, claiming that, even though they were not passing further restrictions on gas powered leaf blowers, they still maintained jurisdiction over them.

In December, days before the RTM was set to vote on the gas leaf blower ordinance, the BOH met, and without any warning or public discussion, repealed the noise ordinance in its entirety. This action prevented the RTM from being able to take a vote on the gas leaf blower ordinance. But even worse, it reversed a policy that had been law for nearly forty years — a policy to protect Greenwich residents from excessive noise — and relinquished control of noise over to the state.

It is shocking that Mr. Muhlbaum now claims that the BOH’s repeal of the noise ordinance simplified the path for the RTM to pass limits on gas leaf blowers. That statement is an affront to everyone who sat through the hours and hours of meetings at the RTM trying to figure out how to navigate the legal morass that the BOH’s actions created.

The Board of Health claims to have the power to make, change and repeal ordinances, but if they have that power it is most certainly constrained by their duty — which is to promote and protect the health of Greenwich residents. Stripping Greenwich residents of protections that were put in place to promote their health is obviously a violation of that duty.

Furthermore, all members of the board should be familiar with the Hippocratic Oath, First, do no harm. And yet the BOH acted with total disregard for potential harm to residents.

Now, after the RTM worked heroically to pass a new noise ordinance and undo the harm done by the Board of Health, Chair Mulhbaum is congratulating himself and his board on a job well done. The action taken by the Board of Health was so shocking that First Selectman Fred Camillo called on the Chair of the BOH to resign.

Muhlbaum has ignored the First Selectman, and now Mulhbaum would have us believe that he is not just blameless, but actually a hero. We are supposed to forget the BOH’s extensive efforts over many months to block the RTM from hearing any testimony on this topic. We are supposed to forget that Director Baisley and Dr. Gamble presented at numerous RTM meetings arguing that the BOH alone has the authority to decide on whether to limit use of  gas leaf blowers. And when that argument failed to gain traction and it became clear that the RTM was going to act, they vacated the law. This was naked obstruction. Vacating a 40 year old law with no notice to the Town, no coordination with the Board of Selectmen, and no communication with the RTM is not good governance. It was a last ditch effort to subvert the democratic process in our town.

The town should celebrate the new passing of the noise ordinance. It is a great accomplishment that required collaboration and time spent by many people. The BOH was indeed a catalyst for this change, in that their actions were so egregious that they motivated others in the town to act. Now, the Chair of the Board of Health should honor the First Selectman’s request and resign for the benefit of the town.

Glen Canner, Legislative & Rules Committee
Lindy Lilien, Health & Human Services Committee
Joan Thakor, Legislative & Rules Committee
Lucy von Brachel, Legislative & Rules Committee