Restricting Gas Powered Leaf Blowers? Dozens Testify at RTM in Support of Amended Noise Ordinance

Monday night’s full RTM meeting at Central Middle School dozens signed up to testify about item 8, a first read on a change to the town’s noise ordinance.

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.”

After about 30 minutes of speakers, mostly in favor of the change, and with over 30 people still waiting to speak, there was a vote to limit additional debate to 30 minutes.

Last May the Board of Health took up a proposal from Quiet Yards Greenwich for a phased approach to the decrease in use of gas leaf blowers over several years. It would apply to apply to residential lots only.

Ultimately they voted it down in June, to the disappointment of a large crowd of residents who favored the proposal.

Instead the Board of Health voted to implement a bona fide registration program for all landscaping professionals who use gas leaf blowers to be managed and overseen by the Dept of Health, to implement a structured re-education program, and lastly have the 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.

Team of landscapers with backpack style gasoline powered leaf blowers on the corner of Lincoln Ave and Milbank. Oct 23, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

First Selectman Fred Camillo testified in favor of the noise ordinance amendment, suggesting it was a good compromise.

First Selectman Fred Camillo testified in favor of restrictions to the use of gas powered leaf blowers during the shoulder seasons.

“I think there is a way to do this: I think doing a condensed summer season, to give people a break who live in condensed areas –  Chickahominy, Cos Cob, Byram, Old Greenwich – the houses are on top of each other,” Camillo said.

“People are working from home more and more, and I’m getting complaints about that. Most of the landscapers I’ve spoken to – most are really good friends of mine – they agree with that.”

He said a compromise would not impact the “shoulder seasons” and took into account that technology was continuing to improve.

“Lots of towns have banned this. Montgomery County in Maryland just (approved) a full ban,” Camillo noted, though he said he did not support a full ban.

Ferdinando Schiro testified against the amendment to the town’s noise ordinance.

Ferdinando Schiro spoke in opposition to the ordinance change. He said he’d heard mention of the word “equitable” which he said was defined as being characterized by “a quality of fairness, just and right.”

“I feel this proposal is anything but equitable. I think of small business owners they say that it won’t impact. But if you think about buying batteries, or they say buy used equipment…How long will the pre-used equipment last?”

“I think of the students I teach in my own job – many of them have come to this country for work or a better life.  Many of them work as landscapers because that is the job available to them. I think about how they will feel fi they will have to use different equipment. What is the cost to them or their family?”

Jane Owen Brash from QYG testified in favor of the amended noise ordinance.

Jane Owen Brash of Quiet Yards Greenwich noted that many landscapers who opposed the ordinance were owners of landscaping companies, not the workers operating the gas leaf blowers.

“They leave that job to the newly landed immigrants who often use the gas leaf blowers with nothing on their ears, nothing on their mouth. If 30 minutes of gas leaf blower use is the equivalent in emissions of a pickup truck driving from New York City to LA, you can imagine the damage that it’s doing to them.”

Selectwoman Lauren Rabin said she was a homeowner who enjoyed raking her leaves.

“I support the change in the ordinance change,” she said, adding that she agreed with the Quiet Yards points about health, environment and quality of life.

Roberto Fernandez of Roberto Fernandez Landscaping said landscaping was his passion and he provided a service. “We are all professionals and we know the industry very well. Several of us made an investment, like myself, this past two years, on e-blowers to test them and use them on our properties, put them to the max, and they don’t perform as well as gas blowers,” Fernandez said.

“I have three of them myself, and beside the initial cost and lack of power, they are heavier than gas blowers and less powerful. We have to keep the batteries charging constantly.”

“Why not try to enforce the existing rules that the Board of Health has put in place for the summer months?” he asked. If you enforce the existing rules I am sure you will see a big difference in noise reduction.”

Nelson Muñoz, owner of Chiapetta-Fierro testified in support of the amendment to the town’s noise ordinance. Oct 23, 2023

Nelson Muñoz, owner of Chiapetta-Fierro said four years earlier he switched over to electric without notifying his customers and not raising his fees.

“It’s not been a problem for me to work, especially on the proposed May 1 to Sept 30 when it’s not necessary to use blowers,” he said. “You just need a small blower to blow the patio or driveway.”

He said he was using money he previously spent on gasoline to help pay for the new electric blowers. Currently he said he had four crews working on clients ranging from corporations to condos to private homes.

“As a landscaper who worked for 20 years, the change – my guys are happy now,” he added. “I’m looking for new technology – five years ago that technology wasn’t there, but this year there is a huge improvement with electricity powered equipment.”

Tim Shea testified in support of the amendment to the town’s noise ordinance. Oct 23, 2023

Tim Shea said he worked from home. “I want to explain to those who aren’t in our neighborhoods during the week days that four hours of leaf blower noise is considered a good day. It can be 8 hours. It can be 12 hours.”

“This incessant noise has effected my ability to focus on work, make calls, hear important news and unwind after work. It travels through my walls, fills my yard with the odor of gas. I’ve heard it on trails hiking, I’ve heard it on the beach, when I’m working in my own yard and even when I’m walking through my neighborhood with headphones on.”

“There’s a million reasons not to do something,” Shea continued. “I hope as my representatives, we don’t wait any longer, that we don’t wait for the Board of Health, we just get this passed so we have some relief in the summer.”

Jay Medhurst from D1 said six years earlier when he first ran for RTM and was collecting his petition signatures, he heard from about half the residents that the number one issue was gas powered leaf blowers.

“Over half the people said gas powered leaf blowers: ‘I hate them. They are so loud. Why can’t we do anything?’ That was six years ago.”

Further he said he also served on the board of a 194-unit 13-acre, heavily treed, co-op where the landscaper uses only electric equipment.

“Across the complex everyone loves it. We got that direct feedback from our annual meeting just a week ago. It has been a smashing success. We have not seen one dollar of increased cost due to the switch to electric.”

Students from the GCDS Earth Rise Group – Abigail Vadai, Pierce Collins, Hunter Amen and Charlie Clark – testified in support of the amendment to the town’s noise ordinance. Oct 23, 2023

Ernst Schirmer yielded his time to four students from the GCDS Earth Rise Group, who stood at the podium with posters.

“Over the past few summers I’ve noticed more and more noise from leaf blowers when I’m outside walking my dogs or trying to simply trying to enjoy the ambient air,” said Charlie Clark.

“While I understand that a transition to greener oxygens is not easy to implement, it is still important to take steps to creating a more sustainable town. It is critical that this town invest in the future of making Greenwich clean. As a teenager in Greenwich my friends rely on our environment.”

“I believe we all have the right to clean air and a comfortable outdoor environment. Two years ago my family started using electric leaf blowers to reduce our carbon footprint and create a more peaceful neighborhood environment. While this was a seemingly small change, if you vote for a switch to electric leaf blowers, Greenwich will be a healthier town for everyone, thus positively impacting quality of life for its residents, especially our youth.”

Peter Berg testified in support of the amendment to the town’s noise ordinance. Oct 23, 2023

Peter Berg, chair of the Land Use Committee, said they had taken up the proposal at their recent meeting.

“It’s important to consider that QYG did a survey of residents. As an elected representative I’m often in the position of having to make a decision about what’s best for my constituents, but in this case I don’t have to because a statistically accurate survey has been conducted and 90% of the residents say they want restrictions on these gasoline powered leaf blowers,” Berg said.

Second, he added that he used battery operated equipment on his own property for many years, blowing leaves from hard surfaces onto his lawn and then running over them with a mulching mower to leave them in place.

Monica Prihoda said she had lived in Old Greenwich for 30 years, Glenville at West Lyon Farm and now in Riverside.

“What do these three places have in common? Noise and fumes. Has this ever happened to you? I sit down to write, read or rest or make a phone call. Go for a walk or run or bike ride, to enjoy the beautiful day, to hear the birds or talk to my neighbor and then, the year round, ROAR ROAR ROAR of gas powered mowers and leaf blowers begins,” she said.

“I go inside to escape it. I close my windows on this beautiful day but the ROAR ROAR ROAR is inescapable. Even the storm windows do not protect me from this truly grating on the nerves and psyche sound. It is all day long as these machines move from yard to yard,” Prihoda said.

Robert Sherwin testified in support of the amendment to the town’s noise ordinance. Oct 23, 2023

Robert Sherwin from district 8 said he and his wife work from home, described his response when gas powered leaf blowers approach his neighborhood.

“My first step is to close the sliding glass door. As they get closer I put on music and try to put get it pretty loud,” he said. “As they get closer and often with two leaf blowers, I put on earbuds….and I’m still hearing it.”

“Greenwich is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I’m just astounded at the natural beauty,” Sherwin added. “When my wife and I are out with the camera in various parts of town, it’s great. You hear water, you see people fishing and then you hear a leaf blower and it just completely destroys the effect.”

“Forty years of leaf blowers, I think it’s time for commerce to give way to community because it’s the community who raises the children, fixes the houses and pay the taxes. I think it’s time for the homeowners to have a say.”

Dr. Sarah Gamble who chairs a subcommittee of the Board of Health said they were still researching the issue.

Dr. Sarah Gamble, vice chair of the Board of Health for Greenwich and  chair of the subcommittee on gas powered leaf blowers said the issue was still an open item on the Board of Health agenda.

“This has taken us 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,” Dr. Gamble said. “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.”

Since there is no November RTM meeting, the second read and potential vote won’t be until December.

See also:

Pressure Mounts on Board of Health at Hearing on Expanded Gas-Powered Blower Restrictions

May 23, 2023

Health Board Rejects Gas Leaf Blower Ordinance; Votes to Create Landscaper Registration System

June 27, 2023