Debate About More Than Noise

By Anne White

Leaf blowers are at the center of a contentious debate in Greenwich revolving around a proposal by Quiet Yards Greenwich which aims to limit the use of gas-powered leaf blowers on residential lots. This proposed ordinance seeks to allow only electric blowers from May through Sept with exceptions for emergency weather events. The enforcement of this ordinance is suggested to be under the purview of the Greenwich Police Department, enhanced by a landscaper permit process.

Following the Greenwich Board of Health’s repeal of the town’s noise ordinance last week, state law, deemed more lenient, has taken precedence. Connecticut’s regulations allow for leaf blower use between 7 AM and 9 PM.

Critics of the Board’s decision, like Aaron Leonard, an RTM member from Riverside, expressed disappointment, calling the move “unbelievably petulant behavior” and inconsistent with the expectations from public servants. Leonard’s sentiments reflect a broader frustration among those who view the repeal as an abdication of responsibility.

First Selectman Fred Camillo has taken a firm stance against the Greenwich Board of Health’s decision. Camillo’s position reflects a broader concern about local governance and the handling of community issues.

Camillo expressed deep disappointment and frustration with the Board’s decision, emphasizing the lack of leadership and the failure to address the issue constructively. He stated, “The decision last week by the Greenwich Board of Health to cede local control over our noise ordinance to Hartford is beyond disappointing. It is outrageous and it happened because of the Board of Health’s inability to address in a timely and thoughtful manner the proposal from Quiet Yards Greenwich to limit gas powered leaf blowers to the Summer months.”

He also highlighted the potential broader implications, questioning the precedent it sets for other town boards: “Can one imagine if every Town board did this when a tough issue came along? The Tow n is fighting and I am fighting every day to maintain and protect local control f rom Hartford over zoning and housing and on other issues important to our citizens.”

The RTM now faces the task of navigating these regulatory changes and community sentiments. RTM Moderator Alexis Voulgaris emphasized the body’s responsibility to consider the Board’s actions. “Regardless of what the RTM decides to do with item #1 this evening, next month there will be an ordinance to regulate gas-powered leaf blowers on the call,” Voulgaris stated.

Groups like Greenwich Grounds Keepers have raised concerns about the practical and financial feasibility of transitioning to electric leaf blowers. In a petition on which gathered 350 signatures the first day, the group highlights issues such as higher equipment costs, maintenance challenges, charging logistics, and safety concerns related to lithium-ion batteries.

They emphasize the financial and practical implications of such a change, directly stating:

• Cost of Equipment: “Electric blowers are so expensive in some cases 3x+ the cost of a normal gas blower.”

• Maintenance Issues: They highlight the impracticality of maintaining electric blowers, noting, “When these machines break there’s no way for a ‘quick repair.’”

• Charging Challenges: The group points out logistical issues with charging electric blowers: “There is no easy way to charge these batteries and most take over an hour to charge.”

• Safety Concerns: They raise alarms about the safety of lithium-ion batteries, asserting, “LIO battery fires are one of the leading causes of fires currently in the USA.

One of the petition signers, Paul Sudell, a seasoned landscaper and tree worker in Greenwich for over 30 years, shared his perspective: “It’s hard enough now to make a living. But if this ban goes through, it will be impossible to work and make a living. People just don’t realize things unless they live the life of others!”

The petition can be found here:

These points by the Greenwich Grounds Keepers encapsulate their opposition to the proposed ordinance, focusing on the higher costs, maintenance difficulties, charging logistics, and safety concerns associated with electric leaf blowers.

The debate extends to concerns about the environmental impact and health hazards of gas-powered leaf blowers. Proponents of restrictions argue that these devices contribute significantly to noise pollution and have detrimental effects on the health and well-being of residents.

Echoing the sentiment, RTM member Edward Dadakis addressed the economic impact of such a transition, pointing out the potential increase in landscaping costs for residents. “Higher landscaping costs caused by this ordinance is actually a tax on the people of Greenwich. We must proceed slowly and listen to everyone. That is why I support the District 9 motion which provides a forum for everyone’s opinion.” Dadakis remarked adding a resident’s financial perspective to the environmental debate.

The discourse extends to the environmental and health implications of gas-powered leaf blowers. Advocates for restrictions argue these devices contribute significantly to noise pollution and affect residents’ health and wellbeing. Quiet Yards Greenwich has been at the forefront of this argument, pushing for a healthier and quieter environment.

Selectwoman Lauren Rabin explained that the Board of Health had taken action without consulting the Board of Selectmen and that, “The town’s legal department and government officials are working to understand the full magnitude of its consequences.”

As the community grapples with these diverse viewpoints, the RTM’s decision-making process remains crucial. The potential formation of a committee, as suggested by RTM District 9, might have offered a platform for more inclusive and comprehensive discussion, taking into account the perspectives of home owners, contractors, and environmental groups; but it the moderator decided it was a lower priority motion, so it was not introduced.

The leaf blower debate in Greenwich is not just about noise and environmental regulations; it’s a reflection of broader concerns about governance, community values, and the balance between individual rights and collective well-being.

Quiet Yards Greenwich website can be found here:

First Selectman Fred Camillo’s OpEd regarding the Board of Health’s repeal of our local ordinance can be found on the Editorial page in this issue of The Greenwich Sentinel.

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