If the 38 people who attended last Monday’s Leaf Blower Committee forum are any indication of wider sentiment, the days of gasoline powered leaf blowers in Bedford could be numbered.
The purpose of the forum was to review the town’s current leaf blower ordinance, which was passed in spring 2018 and took effect on Aug. 18 of that year, with an agreement that it would be revisited in two years. That review was delayed due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The existing law divides the year into an off season from May 15 through Sept. 15 — and a leaf season from Sept. 16 through May 14. The law also splits the town into hamlet zones and non-hamlet zones. A list of streets in the hamlet zones was designated by resolution of the Town Board and is kept on file with the town clerk.
Under the law, no gas-powered leaf blowers may be used in the hamlet zones during the off season, and no push-behind leaf blowers may be used at any time. The law provides for set hours during which leaf blowers may be used during each season, with no use at all allowed on Sundays.
Helene Kopal, co-chair of the committee, said that the response and feedback the committee has gotten since the law took effect has been overwhelmingly positive — “not unanimous, but mostly positive.” And, she said, many people would like to see even more restrictions.
One point made by those on both sides of the issue have made clear, she said, is that they perceive the hamlet zones designation as unfair, placing a harsher burden on residents who happen to live on those streets, located closer to the business district. “We are looking hard at this issue to deal with the fairness,” she said.
Murray Fisher, also a member of the committee, noted that other Westchester towns have been moving ahead with new leaf blower regulations since the Town of Bedford took action. Larchmont and Irvington have passed complete gas leaf blower bans. In Irvington, a complete ban will take effect Dec. 16, 2023. In Larchmont, gas leaf blowers will be banned by January 2022, and electric blowers will then only be permitted during the month of April, and from Oct. 15 to Dec. 15.
“Why would we wait for a complete ban?” is the question Mr. Fisher said the committee is wrestling with. “Why wouldn’t we do a complete ban now?” He pointed out that it would support the town’s Climate Action Plan, adopted last June, which calls for the town to phase out gas-powered leaf maintenance equipment and replace with electric.
Mr. Fisher said both the CAP and the town supervisor’s communications cite the need to be aggressive to address climate change, calling it an urgent threat to the community. Evidence continues to build showing the negative effects of gas-powered blowers, he said, and there has been insufficient behavior change, specifically among landscaping companies.
Additional presentations compounded the evidence against gas-powered leaf blowers on multiple levels. Dan Delventhal, the proprietor of a green lawncare business based in Connecticut, spoke of his determination to eliminate the use of gasoline power when he started 15 years ago, and of the benefits he has seen for his customers. He said electric leaf blowers are far superior to gas. Leaf blowers, he maintained, are overused, and “you don’t need one that powerful.” There are electric models that are sufficiently strong for the job and that cost less to own and operate than gas-powered ones.
“There is no reason to use a gas leaf blower,” said Mr. Delventhal, noting he reduced his charge for fall lawn clean up using electric-powered equipment by 50%.
Multiple speakers stated that leaf blowers are misused, saying they have witnessed workers blowing leaves onto roads, using them to blow lawn clippings, debris and dirt, which they were not designed for and are not necessary. Advocates for healthy yards said allowing leaves to remain in flower beds provides excellent mulch and maintains habitats for many insects. They said using a mulching mower, or simply mowing over the same spot multiple times, mulches the leaves so they serve as lawn fertilizer. And Mr. Delventhal and Mr. Fisher both noted that powerful leaf blowers remove a layer of topsoil that takes many years to regenerate.
Mr. Fisher urged participants to visit the Healthy Yards website to learn about all the negative effects of gas leaf blowers. “Two-stroke leaf blowers are 300 times more polluting than a truck,” he said.
Additional points mentioned included that the American Lung Association has given Westchester an air quality grade of F; that the Medical Society of the State of New York has called for a dramatic reduction in the use of gas leaf blowers; that gas leaf blowers are a major contributor to climate change, releasing hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and other toxins; and that, despite all of this information being readily available, the vast majority of landscapers continue to follow harmful practices.
Midge Iorio, director of Bedford 2030, reiterated the goals adopted by the town and by Bedford 2030. She noted the increased occurrences of asthma associated with the use of gas leaf blowers, especially among landscapers who often have limited access to health care.
Every person who spoke during the 1 hour, 15 minute Zoom session was in favor of banning gas-powered leaf blowers, and for educating landscapers and the general public about both the problems they cause and the better alternatives that are available. No opponents chose to participate in the event.
The forum ended with the intention of creating a Q&A based on the information shared, and working to create a revision of the leaf blower ordinance.