By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
hochman@montclairlocal.news

Montclair won't be extending the period when gas-powered leaf blowers are allowed after all.

The township's OEM coordinator on Monday, Dec. 6 rescinded an extension to the gas blower season he'd made just one business day earlier. The extension, had it remained in effect, would have allowed gas-powered leaf blowers until Dec. 31 — instead of the Dec. 15 normally allowed by a township ordinance.

The extension saw immediate backlash from residents and some council members, Councilman Bob Russo told Montclair Local. He said he and others contacted the township's administration and asked it to reconsider. Under Montclair's form of government, most employees answer to the township manager; council members and the mayor vote on policies, but can't direct how they're applied day-to-day.

"I heard from dozens of residents, especially the folks who had the Quiet Montclair group [an advocacy organization opposed to the use of gas-powered leaf-blowers]," Russo said.  "Residents all over have been calling me, particularly. I'm happy I was able to get it changed."

Earlier this year, Montclair shortened the times of year when gas-powered leaf blowers were allowed at the urging of residents including Quiet Montclair members, and over the objections of area landscapers.

They're now allowed from March 15 through May 15, and from Oct. 15 through Dec. 15. Montclair previously allowed leaf-blower use from the start of March through June, and from the start of October until Dec. 15. The change cut down the period they were allowed from 168 days of the year to 93.

The ordinance gives the township's OEM director leeway to modify the dates “when extreme or unusual weather conditions warrant.”

"This is the first year [with the new rules] and already we're extending? I don't know what the need is. There's no emergency," Russo said.

OEM coordinator Robert Bianco had cited the mild fall as the reason for the extension in the original announcement, saying “we have experienced there are still many trees with leaves on them in the township. This has delayed the fall cleanup for many homes.”

"This is not an emergency, that the weather maybe was mild," Russo said. "If there's a real emergency, we might want to revisit how we define 'emergency,' so it's not left to the decision of staff."

Opponents of gas-powered leaf blowers have objected to the noise they cause and to the environmental impacts of their internal combustion motors. They also tout environmental benefits of letting leaves and grass decompose naturally.

"Yet this sickening practice, based on denial of the true environmental impact, continues in which the truth is blatantly ignored — that the use of gas-powered leaf blowers for just one hour is as polluting as driving a truck 1,000 miles; that each time they are used millions of toxic particulates are spewed; that the sound is deafening and damaging to humans, animals and birds; and that the earth needs leaves to regenerate soil and nurture life," resident Leah Katz, a member of Quiet Montclair, wrote to Montclair Local this week.

Landscaping companies had opposed the restrictions put in place this year, claiming the township was bound by a settlement reached in the 1990s, after Montclair first put limits on when the blowers could be used. But a judge ruled this summer the decades-old settlement couldn’t bind the current Township Council.

Only three towns in New Jersey — Montclair, Maplewood and Princeton — currently have any limitations on gas-powered leaf blowers. Summit also piloted a summer ban this year.

Russo — who'd also been a councilman in the 1990s when the earlier restrictions went into place — noted the township's ordinance doesn't bar the use of electric blowers without internal combustion motors. They've historically been less powerful than the gas-powered counterparts, but consumer models have gotten considerably more effective over the last several years.

And the councilman said he, like some of his colleagues, would like to see the use of gas-powered leaf blowers phased out entirely, and for the township's own landscaping crews to transition to electric blowers.

"I'm not saying people have to sit out there and let the leaves pile up," he said. "But I've observed, for my own building, how sometimes they do excessive removal of every piece of grass and leaf that's on there. They go on, causing terrific pollution, and then of course the noise. I've seen this for years. They want to get every spec off the ground. There's really no need for such excessive use."