“There's no reason for gas blowers, period,” Dan Delventhal from the organic, all-electric lawn care company Mowgreen told the Scarsdale Board of Trustees during a work session March 11. The board heard from residents and other stakeholders about the merits and demerits of limiting the use of gas-powered leaf blowers and shifting to encourage the use of electric leaf blowers instead.
Delventhal and Jeff Cordulack of Organic Ways & Means drove home the point that electric leaf blowers are healthier for residents, landscapers and the environment more broadly. Others defended the use of gas-powered blowers on the basis of economic advantages.
The trustees expect to make an official decision at a public hearing March 23, on whether to adopt a proposed amendment to the Scarsdale Village Code chapter 205, which pertains to noise, as follows:
Gas Leaf Blower (GLB) usage is not allowed on federal holidays.
May 1-Sept. 30, 2021 GLBs are not allowed.
Oct. 1-Dec. 31, 2021 GLBs are only allowed Monday through Friday.
Jan. 1-Sept. 30, 2022 GLBs are not allowed.
Oct. 1-Dec. 31, 2022 GLBs are only allowed Tuesdays through Fridays. This will be the standard moving forward into the year 2023 should the gradual implementation of the above restrictions prove practicable.
The use of gas-powered leaf blowers by golf course operators won’tbe limited to within 100 feet of a residential property line at any time throughout the year.
Electric blowers are always allowed.
Village Treasurer Ann Scaglione said enforcement of the amendment to chapter 205 will lead to increased costs for the village. During the board of trustees budget meeting March 15, she said an update was made to the 2020-21 year-end budget projections to reflect the Scarsdale Building Department’s expenses, which would increase from $17,500 to $26,000 for the addition of a part-time enforcement officer who will patrol the streets of Scarsdale searching for violators of the new leaf blower code.
Currently, violations related to gas leaf blower usage are handled by the Scarsdale Police Department based on calls received from concerned residents. Scarsdale Village Manager Steve Pappalardo explained the inefficiency of this current method, citing the need for a more “proactive, not reactive” approach.
“By the time the officer responds to the call, the activity has either ceased, or the person is gone,” Pappalardo said. “If we really want to do it right, we'd have … enforcement officers throughout the village during the … period where the ban is in effect, doing nothing but looking for landscapers or residents using [gas-powered] blowers.”
According to Pappalardo, Scarsdale currently has a code enforcement officer, as well as police officers who patrol village streets. However, to signal the earnestness with which the board is hoping to implement this new draft law, Pappalardo recommended adding $30,000 to the building department budget for the 2021-22 budget year to hire an officer who will focus exclusively on gas-powered leaf blower ban enforcement.
The $30,000 change to the 2021-22 tentative budget was formally presented to the board by Scaglione at the meeting on March 15.
After receiving many complaints about noise from gas-powered leaf blowers from residents over the years, which only increased during the pandemic as residents and their children began to work and learn from home, in December 2020 the village board asked the Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) to study the impact of leaf blowers. The CAC presented its findings together with three potential amendments to chapter 205 during a public work session on Jan. 21. The CAC’s three amendments were then revised by the board of trustees into three draft laws.
At a previous meeting on March 9, the trustees voted to bring to the March 23 public hearing three potential draft laws shaped by amendments proposed by the CAC.
However, after hearing from stakeholders, including village residents, representatives from the New York State Turf & Landscape Association (NYSTLA), representatives from the CAC, and members of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, the Village Board deliberated on what they heard during the March 11 work session and decided to settle on Draft 3 and revise it to the above iteration for public discussion and board approval on March 23.
Members of the CAC and the Scarsdale Department of Public Works met with representatives from NYSTLA in January to hear their concerns regarding the banning of gas-powered leaf blowers in favor of electric leaf blowers. Electric leaf blowers, according to the CAC’s report, are zero emissions, thus limiting the health impacts of gas pollution to both workers and residents, and are much quieter, thus limiting noise pollution. The NYS Turf & Landscape Association, however, was concerned about the cost and efficacy of a transition to electric leaf blowers.
At the trustees meeting March 11, Tyler Seifert, Scarsdale’s assistant superintendent of public works, relayed some of NYSTLA’s concerns, namely that electric leaf blowers and batteries are more expensive and, given the size of many Scarsdale properties, would put a large financial strain on landscaping companies. The NYSTLA added that because electric leaf blowers are less powerful than gas-powered leaf blowers, it would take longer to do each property. This increase in labor and equipment costs would potentially have to shift onto the property owners.
The NYSTLA also cited efficacy issues, whereby limitations on the days during which gas powered leaf blowers can be used — called “quiet days” in the draft amendment — would hinder landscapers. “They said right now their work is very limited,” Seifert communicated on behalf of the NYSTLA. “They work five to six days a week, and only during the day. And depending on the weather, if it rains, those days may get cut down. So if there are quiet days [in addition to days where they cannot work due to inclement weather] ... then they're really restricted.”
To provide an alternative point of view, Delventhal and Cordulack, both members of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), an organization that has helped lead the way in establishing rules and regulations for organic landscaping, were invited to speak at the board work session.
Both Cordulack and Delventhal described their business practices and testified that despite using only electric equipment, they are able to be as effective, as well as charge the same amount, as landscaping companies who use gas-powered blowers. In fact, according to Cordulack, he finds using electric leaf blowers more profitable, in addition to the health and environmental benefits. “I don't have to stop [working] for gas [refills of machines]. I don't have to do … [equipment] maintenance every year. I don't have to worry about absorbing gasoline through my hands. The guys on my truck tell me that they're so impressed that they don't get headaches.” Cordulack also said that while electric leaf blowers are more expensive, there is a higher return-on-investment for electric than for gas-powered leaf blowers.
Delventhal attested that this investment pays off. “The total cost of ownership of electric equipment is lower than that of gas,” he explained. “In other words, investing in electric equipment for blowing or mulching is less expensive over time ... There's a higher rate of return, compared to fueling a gas unit and repairing it. Even the shops I talked to ... they're very busy fixing gas equipment ... [but] the electrics really don't require that much maintenance.”
“Blowers are for making piles, not for moving piles,” Delventhal added. “There's no reason to blast at 800 cubic feet per minute like you're in an infantry line, stripping a property of everything from one end to the other.”
Scarsdale resident Cynthia Roberts, a board member of Friends of Scarsdale Parks, spoke during the meeting to add to Delventhal’s point. “We've all learned a lot about the enormous harm that gas blowers can cause to the health of our lawn professionals and our residents,” she said. “But we haven't spoken as much about the toll [gas-powered] leaf blowers take on our lawns, our costly landscaped plant beds, and most importantly, on our local environment. For years … I didn't realize that I was allowing my lawn service to blow away my valuable topsoil ... When the blowers were blasting away my leaves they were also blasting away valuable mulch from my shrub and perennial beds … I was paying someone to blow away my soil and then I was paying someone to buy and apply fertilizer and mulch in order to recreate topsoil.” Roberts went on to bring to the board’s attention that it takes 100 years for an inch of topsoil to form, but minutes to blow it away using strong gas-powered leaf blowers.
"We’ve been hearing from residents for years that the noise and air pollution from gas leaf blowers are excruciating and relentless,” CAC Chair Michelle Sterling wrote in an email to the Inquirer. “With so many residents working and studying from home, it has made people realize what a nuisance gas leaf blowers are. The proposal being considered by the board would alleviate the noise and air pollution in our community from gas blowers, while maintaining the aesthetics of our properties by allowing electric blowers year-round and allowing gas blowers only at certain times of the year. There are landscapers using electric leaf blowers successfully all the time and charging the same as the landscapers using gas blowers. Going electric works, is cost-effective and is better for the landscapers, residents and environment. We just need this code change to make it a reality. I hope that the community [joins] the Zoom hearing on March 23 at 7 p.m. and speaks out in favor of this change."