By Michele Dargan, Special to the Civic Association - Civic Association Urges Middle Ground. The hot-button issue of whether to ban the use of leaf blowers in Palm Beach is set for a discussion before the Town Council on February 14.
The issue has come before the council several times over the years, but no previous council has taken the final step to ban leaf blowers altogether.
Advocates say it will create a quieter, healthier, and more environmentally-friendly atmosphere.
Landscapers, who currently service the town, say it will drive up costs anywhere from 15 to 30 percent. They say there will be increased costs for the extra time it will take to use brooms, rakes, and/or hoses to get the job done.
They will have to hire more employees and put more vehicles on the road. They say using brooms on the pavement areas won’t get them clean and hosing them down with water would waste a valuable resource.
The Palm Beach Civic Association sent a letter this week to Mayor Gail Coniglio and Town Council members advocating a middle ground approach. The Association supports strict enforcement of low-noise leaf blowers, which meet the 65 decibel noise limit as required by the town. This requirement is not being enforced and a wide range of blowers are currently being used, aggravating the noise problem.
“We agree that noisy lawn maintenance equipment disturbs the quality of life in Palm Beach,” states the Civic Association letter. “However, we believe it is premature to enact a total ban on leaf blowers … We urge our town leaders to take a measured approach in addressing this issue given the many interests of the parties involved.”
The Association suggests conducting drive-by, on-site spot checks to identify violators.
Violators would be given an initial warning for a first violation with repeat offenders fined a significant amount such as $500 for a second violation and $1,000 for each additional violation.
“This should result in rapid compliance with current town regulations,” says the Association. “If this does not result in a significant reduction of noise, we would support addressing a total ban on leaf blowers.”
The Civic Association letter also calls for the use of one machine at a time on most properties, i.e. those less than one acre, which could result in a much lower noise level.
If the Town Council considers a total ban, Association leaders ask council members to consider the following questions:
*Landscapers report they will be forced to raise their rates 15 to 30 percent to get the job done without leaf blowers. Will residents be willing to accept the dramatic cost increases in exchange for a little less noise on a limited basis?
*What about landowners with large properties like The Breakers, private clubs, and golf courses? It’s hard to imagine raking and sweeping these extensive properties. Hosing down sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots will require significant amounts of water, a resource we try to conserve.
*Will a leaf blower ban enable the town’s public works department to properly maintain town-owned properties, parks, roadways, swales, and medians? Does the town have a large enough work force and a big enough budget to handle the additional manual labor required?
Last month, the town’s Ordinance Rules and Standards Committee (ORS), comprised of councilwomen Bobbie Lindsay and Danielle Moore, recommended that the town ban all leaf blowers and sent their proposal to the council for discussion.
If the council does go the route of banning all leaf blowers, there may have to be some type of exemption for large properties like
The Breakers, private clubs, and golf courses, Ms. Moore said, “It’s easy to understand why it’s never been tackled, because it’s a very contentious issue,” Ms. Moore said. “You have two opposite points of view. You have the people who want to get rid of them because they serve up allergens, health issues, and noise. Then you have the people who don’t feel that the noise is a compelling issue, don’t have a problem with it whatsoever, and don’t want their landscapers to increase prices and crews. You have the people who say, ‘my yard won’t be as neat and clean if my landscaper doesn’t have the ability to blow the leaves.’ They say hosing the leaves is not environmentally conscious. We’re not sure of the solution, but we’re hoping that by sending it to the full council we can come up with a compromise.”
Two of the largest landscaping companies who serve the town have written letters to their clients, urging them to contact council members with their concerns about the ban. Armstrong Landscape Design Group, Inc. and Scott Lewis’ Gardening and Trimming both say that, if the ban is enacted, prices will go up.
In his letter, Mr. Lewis states that “every gardener we have polled expects to increase prices between 15 to 30 percent due to real cost increases. The alternative to blowers is a return to rakes, brooms, and water hoses as well as the increase in billable hours to perform these inefficient processes. If you do nothing or if you support this change, the expected cost increase for a $750 a month bill would be $150 per month or $1,800 per year.”
Kurt Carlsen, director of maintenance for Armstrong, made many of the same points as Mr. Lewis: “You’re looking at increased labor which is an increased cost to us which is an increased cost to our clients,” Mr. Carlsen said. “The alternative is using hoses, but that’s another push-button issue for people because water is the new gold. Otherwise, we won’t get these places spotless, which is what they expect on Palm Beach Island.”
Paul Brazil, director of Public Works, said the town uses outside contractors for lawn maintenance to town properties.
Mr. Brazil said he believes it will have a financial impact to the town if leaf blowers are banned, however he doesn’t know how much it would be at this point.
Mr. Brazil said the town has purchased some cordless, battery-powered leaf blowers. “In the beginning, we thought the (battery-powered) blowers cost substantially more, but the fact that there’s no maintenance and repair may make it a cost effective solution, he said. “They’re substantially quieter.”
Town staff researched communities with a similar demographic to Palm Beach to determine what regulations, if any, they place on the operation of leaf blowers, according to a Jan. 5 memo from Code Enforcement management to Mr. Boodheshwar.
Many California municipalities have banned or restricted leaf blowers. Greenwich, CT and East Hampton, NY have restrictions on the operation of leaf blowers. Recently, the Town of Manalapan has decided not to ban leaf blowers, but to enforce a 65 decibel noise level.
Ms. Lindsay said. “The people on the smaller lots in town have numerous complaints – noise, particles in the air, and emissions. A lot of people in Midtown and the North End, who feel the effects, say it’s easier to get rid of the leaf blowers. For the condo areas and the large lots south of the B&T, we might want to do something different. Whatever we do, we have to be able to enforce it.”