Will going electric with leaf blowers ease the noise in Montclair?
BY KELLY NICHOLAIDES
for Montclair Local
Although Montclair bans the use of leaf blowers during the summer months, environmental commission officials said they field complaints of them being used all summer long.
Residents have complained about the ubiquitous sounds throughout Montclair on hot summer days, but enforcement of Montclair’s ordinance that restricts the blowers’ use to spring and autumn is nearly impossible, Montclair Environmental Commission officials said. Additionally, the town and board of education operate blowers in summer, according to one commissioner member. The town is exempt from the law.
Residents file do complaints that result in summonses. Nicknamed “The Enforcer” in a New York Times article, resident Fred Chichester says he has lodged dozens of complaints trying to get Montclair’s law enforced. He says the complaints have resulted in summonses mailed to landscapers who end up and court.
The solution may be in promoting the use of electric blowers, which are less noisy and also better for the environment, commission officials said.
“There’s almost no spot in Montclair in which you don’t hear leaf blowers. You can hear them everywhere,” said Ben Rich, an alternate on the Montclair Environmental Commission. “We can find businesses that use all electric or a combination of both. We need to show them that there’s a successful way of doing it.”
The MEC on July 10 discussed encouraging the town to consider electric blowers in order to cut the noise and emissions. Member Janine Salvador said that she was calling landscapers who work in Montclair to find out if they have electric blowers. “I contacted nine or 10 so far and none of them use electric lawn mowers or leaf blowers,” Salvador said, adding that they were resistant when asked if they would consider doing so. “How do we provide incentives to use electric? The tone I’m getting is like ‘no, that’s not happening.'' The intonation was that electric is not as powerful or they can’t take the time to change equipment.”
Montclair Sustainability Officer Gray Russell said it would be difficult to run equipment all day on electric. “The trick is to recharge in order to feed a bank of mowers. If you have three mowers, you need three to six batteries. My battery doesn’t even last an hour,” Russell said.
Resident and landscape designer and Parks and Recreation Committee member Jose German said he used less noisy, solar powered blowers seven years ago. “The homeowners are usually not home when landscapers are there, but neighbors get the fumes and dust,” he said.
He closed his landscaping business because he got bronchitis and asthma, he said.
German suggested the commission approach Montclair with an ordinance requiring landscapers to disclose the equipment they use, and requiring the use of more energy efficient equipment.
Russell noted that the municipality and the school board both use leaf blowers all year round as they they are exempt from the law that restricts residents' use of leaf blowers in spring and autumn.
“The commission can suggest the municipal switch to electric, doing one project like parking lots. Maybe the council can say let’s start there,” he said.
He suggests requiring blowers with lower decibels.
“Some towns grandfather in older ones and require that within three years you switch to more efficient blowers with lower noise levels,” Russell said.
MEC member Catherine Outlaw noted that a Quiet Communities event in California included discussion about municipal regulation on landscaping equipment and their emissions regulations.
Residents have sounded off in letters to the Montclair Local, calling for an outright ban on all leaf blowers. Pat Kenschaft raises her family’s vegetables and cares for her property with no power machinery. She contends she rakes at least as fast as the landscapers blow and has called for outright ban. “How sad that they interrupt the beauty of incipient spring. Let’s ban them. Their use is based on two falsehoods that they save money and time. However, towns that have banned them have not have not had a rise in landscaping prices. They do not save money,” she writes in an April 11 letter.
She points to surveys indicating that among workers using leaf blowers while wearing ear plugs, about half have perceptible hearing loss and about a tenth go deaf altogether.
Rob Henke wrote in an April 4 letter that he can no longer hear the birds in Brookdale Park and referred to the sound of leaf blowers as “the soundtrack of outdoor Montclair.”
Under township code, unlimited use of internal combustion engine powered leaf blowers “impairs the economic and social welfare, health, peace and quality of life” of Montclair residents. The town bans them from use on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. except by occupants or owners of the premises between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.; on Saturdays between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., except for use by occupant or owner between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.;and on Sundays, Good Friday and Thanksgiving, between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Leaf blowers may be used between March 1 and June 30 and Oct. 1 and Dec. 15. All internal combustion engine leaf blowers must have a properly functioning muffler.
While the MEC attempts to work on a compromise for both homeowners and landscapers on the blower issue, Chichester will still be righting up his complaints.
“I write down the data from the sides of the [landscaping] vehicle, note the date, time and address, and I look up the phone number on a reverse directory, and they get a summons in the mail. I usually win [in court] because I have all the information needed,” Chichester said.
He added that Montclair has been indifferent when asked why it violates its own ordinance, calling this a serious issue. “I’m unsure if this should go to the next level, which is Superior Court,” Chichester said.
Township Communications Director Kayta Wowk did not respond to inquiries about the town’s use of blowers during the summer months.
EDITOR"S NOTE: In a previous version of this article it was noted that the municipality and "the school board both use leaf blowers all year round in violation of their own law that restricts leaf blower use to spring and autumn, but no code enforcers will enforce the law and no judge is going to penalize them…” according to Russell.
The township’s use of leaf blowers is actually not “in violation of their own law”, but instead, the township is not legally constrained to adhere to this ordinance; that is, the ordinance does not pertain to municipal operations.