9 summonses so far for gas-powered leaf blowers in Montclair
By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
The consensus is still out on whether Montclair’s newly amended restrictions on gas-powered leaf blowers are creating a quieter Montclair.
The law cuts back on the days and hours when gas blowers can be used — including barring them in the second half of May and all of June.
Peter Holm of Quiet Montclair, a group that aims to reduce the use of gas blowers in favor of quieter, healthier, greener alternatives, said the law has had some of its intended effect, but that more compliance is needed.
The township, as of June 10, had issued nine summonses to eight different landscaping companies charging violations of the gas leaf blower ban. Those summonses will result in court dates.
In addition, the township issued five warnings to landscapers for using gas blowers since the ban went into effect.
“We're only a month into the law's new restricted season being in effect and already we have eight companies headed to court to adjudicate violations. That was the teeth in this law — that if you're caught, it's not just a slap on the hand, you're going to court, and the judge may fine you up to $2,000,” Councilman Peter Yacobellis, who penned the new law, said. “I would hope as those consequences reverberate, that companies do not continue to flagrantly break the law.”
Officials have said in the past that warnings would be issued for first offenses, while second offenses would result in summonses and court dates.
Gas-powered blowers had previously been allowed March 1 through June 30, and Oct. 1 through Dec. 15. In February, the Township Council voted 5-2 to restrict those dates to March 15 through May 15, and Oct. 15 through Dec. 15. Starting times are now an hour later as well — 9 a.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. on weekends.
In all, that reduces the number of days gas blowers are allowed each year from 168 to 93.
Holm questioned if both landscapers and homeowners had been notified about the change in the law. Township officials said in the past that all of the 48 landscapers who registered with the town to conduct business would be notified via mail of the new hours and when the bans took effect. The New Jersey Landscapers Association was also aware of the change, Holm said.
Only two towns currently have limitations on gas blowers — Montclair and Maplewood.
Maplewood passed its law in 2017, limiting gas blowers by landscapers to Oct. 1 through May 14. Monday through Friday, they’re allowed 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays they’re allowed 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fines are $500 for a first offense, $1,000 for a second offense and $1,500 plus a loss of licence for a third offense. Prior to that, Maplewood had no restrictions on when gas blowers could be used.
Montclair’s law creates a minimum fine of $100, a maximum of $2,000, and a possible 90-day jail term for violators — the maximum allowed under municipal ordinances.
Holm said he would like to see escalating fines be set like those in Maplewood, rather than leaving it up to the discretion of the court. But he conceded the goal of the law was not to fine landscapers, but to lower the usage of gas blowers.
Some landscapers have pivoted from gas to electric blowers, which are allowed all year long. But for other landscaping companies, the cost to replace their blowers is prohibitive, and the need to recharge batteries can hurt workflow. The cost of a professional-grade battery-operated leaf blower is about $300 to $400 (the same as a gas blower), and it comes with one battery, according to Dan Delventhal, who owns Connecticut-based lawn care company MowGreen LLC and speaks to communities on the benefits of electric landscaping tools over gas-powered ones. He said an electric blower has power on par with a gas one. Delventhal made the comments at a May 4 Maplewood Township Committee meeting.
Tunde Bamigboye, owner of Grasscutter, told Montclair Local it was an easy choice when he started his Montclair-area landscaping business this year. He went all-battery or electric for all of his tools, trimmers, mowers and blowers.
Bamigboye said buying battery-powered tools was a little more expensive, and he needs to have multiple batteries on hand for each tool. But he saves money by charging equipment up at a cost of 25 cents an hour versus filling up with gas. He also charges up equipment while driving to job sites, and some homeowners allow him to charge using their outdoor outlets.
“It’s all worth it when you think of the effect gas has on people’s lives,” he said. “Times are different now. There’s a health crisis, and there’s climate change.”
Delventhal said he’s been able to keep his rates at $40-$45 an hour, which is the market rate.
Daria Paxton, owner of Gaia Gardens, invested in battery-powered blowers in the spring to use during the off-season, but sent out letters to her 180 clients explaining how the reduction in hours would affect fall and spring cleanups, and notifying them of a small increase in prices.
But customers don’t mind paying a little more, said Bamigboye, who can’t hire enough workers to meet his demand.
Resident Jeannine Cox, who has been a vocal proponent of a leaf blower ban, questioned how many residents know about the change in usage dates, or that Montclair even has a law regulating gas blowers. Cox has suggested that when there’s a violation, the homeowner and landscaper both be ticketed. And enforcement should be conducted routinely, as meter maids do, she said.
Yacobellis said residents and businesses should let landscapers they hire know they want them to follow the law.
Although only two towns in New Jersey are limiting gas blowers, 170 towns throughout the U.S. have enacted regulations on the machines, Maplewood officials said at their May meeting. Next year, Washington, D.C., will ban their use and sale completely. In April, Summit created a pilot program to test banning gas blowers from June 1 to Aug. 31 of this year.
Dr. Alvin H. Strelnick, a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a Montclair resident, said at a Jan. 5 Township Council meeting that the two-stroke engines of gas-powered blowers “are invisibly toxic, because they run on a mixture of gas and oil, they produce toxic exhaust, carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, hydrocarbons and unburned fumes that linger for days.” He said the pollution leads to asthma and could lead to cancer.
Soon after Maplewood passed its ban, the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association and nine landscape companies filed a suit against the township, charging that the ban discriminates against businesses because it does not apply to private residents and the town’s DPW crews. Montclair’s ordinance, however, applies to private residents as well, though the DPW is not restricted. The Maplewood suit is still in the federal courts.
Montclair’s gas leaf blower ordinance was first created in 1995, limiting use to March 15 to April 30 and Oct. 15 to Dec. 1, and was soon challenged by Dente Landscaping and 50 other “John Does.” In 1996, the group of landscapers successfully petitioned the township to take the ordinance to referendum, with 57.3% of the voters against a repeal. The suit was dismissed after the landscapers and township reached a settlement in 2000 that limited use from March 1 to June 10 and Oct. 1 to Dec. 15.
In February, Michael D. Byrne of Pilgrim Pruning said that the settlement prohibited the town from further restrictions on leaf blowers. But the settlement, obtained by Montclair Local, does not state that the town is prohibited from making amendments to its ordinance.
At the time, Township Attorney Ira Karasick said: “Courts cannot normally enjoin legislative bodies from making laws — they can only address the laws themselves.”