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Richard Nangle speaks in support of Article 10, as Faith Michaels and opponents prepare to speak at Nov 18th meeting. (Photo: Jenna Fisher, via Twitter)

Update to “Brookline’s Blower Ban: A Contractor Weighs In

On November 18, 2015, the Brookline Town Meeting declined to ban gas-powered leaf blowers, with broad recognition that the proposed ban would unfairly target contractors, private homeowners, and small institutions. (The ban was amended to exempt Town crews and non-residential properties over 5 acres, most notably the Country Club.)

Town Meeting voted 143 in favor, 57 opposed and with 2 abstentions to refer the question of whether to tighten restrictions on leaf blowers to a moderators committee.

“We need a policy that would make the rules easier to understand and easier to enforce,” said Town Meeting member Chuck Swartz of Precinct 9, one of almost a dozen people to speak on leaf blowers. “We can find something that will work for all of us here in Brookline.” (Jenna Fisher, BrooklineTAB)

Opponents of Article 10 included landscape contractors, elderly residents, and residents who felt like the blower issue was a distraction from more significant issues facing the Town. Faith Michaels, a representative of the green-industry group BrooklineLeaves.org, offered to lead an effort to educate contractors, workers, and residents about reducing the impact of blower use. Several speakers asked the Town to lead by example, rather than exempting itself.

The Advisory Committee recommended referral, noting that they had already identified 8 steps that could be taken by the Town immediately to improve application and enforcement of the current blower restrictions:

  1. Implement a registration system for all landscape contractors operating in Brookline.
  2. Improve public education about the existing restrictions on the use of leaf blowers and other lawn care equipment by residents and contractors.
  3. Edit Article 8.31 of the Bylaws to improve its readability, to clarify whom and what it applies to, and to include a reference to Article 8.15 of the Bylaws.
  4. Edit Article 8.15.6(f) of the Bylaws to include a reference to Article 8.31.
  5. Encourage the police department to maintain its policy of proactive enforcement of November 17, 2015 Special Town Meeting 10-12 Articles 8.15 and 8.31 of the Town’s Bylaws.
  6. Encourage the police department to feel empowered to issue citations for violations of Articles 8.15 and 8.31 of the Town’s Bylaws when it is appropriate. The objective of enforcement should be to control noise, and the department and its officers should feel comfortable using both warnings and citations to achieve this goal.
  7. Encourage the Department of Public Works to continue purchasing replacement equipment that complies with the decibel levels set out in Article 8.15.
  8. Encourage the Parks and Open Space Division of the Department of Public Works to develop a formal policy that identifies ways to minimize the use of leaf blowers, when it is practical.

BrooklineLeaves.org has a wealth of scientific information on the noise, health, and economic impact of bower use, as well as steps that contractors and homeowners can take to make Brookline a more pleasant place to live and work. To learn more about the issues on both sides of the blower debate, see Reports of the Selectmen and Advisory Committee (pp 69-86).

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On Tues Oct 27, 2015, the Brookline Board of Selectmen took a vote of no action on Warranty Article 10, which would place a year-round ban all gas-powered blowers. The article was amended to exempt Town crews, the country club and golf course, but still was not recommended by the board. (Update: on 11/18/15, the Town Meeting voted to refer the question to a moderator’s committee. More details and background here.)

As a company concerned with the environment and with the health of both workers and community members, we agree that blowers are overused by both groundskeepers and homeowners. However, we are also concerned about the unintended consequences of a 100% ban on blowers, which we believe would disproportionately impact small businesses, workers, senior citizens, and people with disabilities. Here are our responses to some major points of the blower ban proponents:

1. Contractors don’t care.” There will always be contractors who break the rules. It’s up to Brookline to figure out how to enforce them. But a complete ban would primarily hurt those small, locally-owned businesses who do follow the rules. We even go our of our way voluntarily to try to do the right thing:
– We signed on to Quiet Communities and asked to be listed by Newton Safe & Sound as contractors who will perform hand-raking
– We spent the extra money to invest in blowers that meet the 67 decibel regulations, including electric ones.
– We pay living wages and benefits to our workers to create a stable, well-trained workforce. Our workers are not disposable; they want the company to be perceived as a good neighbor and community member.
2. “Banning blowers protects workers.”
If the blower ban is passed, we will be out-competed by irresponsible companies who hire day laborers as a cheap, short term source of manual labor to do hand-raking. These workers will not get basic protections of employment law like minimum wages, overtime, or workers compensation in case of injury. This blower ban will primarily hurt the very workers who are making Brookline a nice place to live. Landscaping workers may work 60 hours a week for 6 weeks removing leaves. They will face an increase in repetitive strain injuries from use of rakes or handheld electric blowers. If they’re not covered as employees under workers comp, they will likely be sent packing if they’re injured.
3. “Just rake your own leaves, already! Or pay someone else to do it.” The exemption for Town crews will save Brookline taxpayers some money, but the ban will raise costs for those homeowners who can least afford it: senior citizens & those with disabilities might not be able to do their own hand-raking, and will be hard hit by increases in costs to have someone else do their leaf removal. Alternately, they may not clean up leaves. That’s great for the soil, but neighbors might not like the messy look, and leaves in storm drains will increase street flooding problems.
4. “But blowers are so noisy…” At 80-100 decibels, walk-behind lawn mowers are actually louder than the 67 decibel blowers required under Brookline’s existing regulations. And that’s not to mention chainsaws, wood chippers, or excavators. Blowers have been targeted because often several are running at a time. Rather than an outright ban, Brookline might consider regulations similar to Cambridge and Arlington, which limit the number of blowers that can be used at any one time, based on the size of the property.
5. “What about the effect of blowers on allergies, asthma, and blood pressure?” We aren’t epidemiologists, but Alan Balsam, Brookline’s health director, has said that the Advisory Council on Public Health “found no compelling health threat” from the use of blowers in accordance with Brookline’s current regulations. Even the American Lung Association has recently acknowledged that the primary concern for pollution from 2-stroke engines comes from machines manufactured before 2012 EPA guidelines went into effect.

To learn more about what local landscapers are doing to be responsible blower users, go to BrooklineLeaves.org

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