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Council limits leaf blower usage, plans ban in 2027, pending technology improvements

Tuesday’s Common Council hybrid meeting, as shown on the City’s YouTube channel.

Just under the wire for the 2021-23 Common Council is an ordinance concerning gas leaf blowers.

While small business landscapers attempted to dissuade the Council from banning gas leaf blowers in three to four years, the ordinance only effectively limits the hours they can be used, prohibiting their use on anything but impervious surfaces from June 1 to Oct. 15, with some emergency exceptions.

“No one can walk out of here and say we’ve banned leaf blowers tonight,” Council member Josh Goldstein (D-At Large) said Tuesday. “And the reason they can’t do that is because the Council will be required to affirmatively vote in a few years whether the ban is going to be in effect.”

In what Council members are calling “The Camacho Amendment,” the ordinance passed Tuesday on an 8-3-1 vote requires the Council to vote on the ban again on Sept. 1. 2026.

Ordinance Committee Chairwoman Lisa Shanahan (D-District E) called it a “failsafe provision.”

“It requires us to revisit this ordinance, to speak again with the City’s DPW and Parks and Rec departments, to speak again with our landscaping community, to verify that the electric leaf blowing technology has advanced to where it needs to be for us to reasonably transition to electric and to these batteries in the outlined time period,” she said.

Countering concerns about pollution, unsafe batteries

Eight citizens spoke in favor of the ordinance and its tentative ban, while five spoke against. Landscaper Kevin Palinkas called it a “poor turnout” for the meeting, “only about 40 people” in the Council chambers despite “all the people that supposedly knew about this.”

Proponents cited environmental pollution and noise; opponents said that the technology isn’t there yet.

“It’s estimated that one gas leaf blower emits 300 times the pollutants of the pickup truck,” Louise Washer said. “…Part of the problem is that 30% of the gas and oil that these engines use is unburned and released directly into the atmosphere. In 2020, fossil fuel powered lawn equipment emitted more than 30 million tons of carbon dioxide. To put that in context, it’s more carbon pollution than one year in one year than was emitted in the entire city from the entire city of Los Angeles in the year 2021.”

Betsy Wrenn said she rakes her own one-acre property and also her neighbor’s driveway, to avoid the noise pollution of blowers.

“It’s not just the noise but it’s the fumes,” Bill Wrenn said, likening the ordinance to banning cigarettes way back when, and “I think eventually, we’ll reach the point where everybody will say, ‘Yeah, this was a great idea.’”

“Not every leaf is an enemy that has to be taken away,” Audrey Cozzarin said. “They provide nourishment for the soil that we depend on for the health of the planet, as well as overwintering shelter for small animals and insects.”

The batteries on electric leaf blowers are unsafe, Palinkas said.

“Yes, the engines that we’re using now are not the best in the world. However, it’s the best that we have at the moment, that technology is not there,” he said, adding that a New York City family just lost three members, one from each generation, in a fire caused by a lithium-ion battery.

Serafino Carri countered that “if you truly investigate the topic, you will find that most of the incidents with batteries stem from poor grade batteries, not all lithium-ion batteries, which is the predominant technology are created equal, you get what you pay for. The second is the temperature range in which they’re stored at during charging phase.”

He asked, “If people are that paranoid about battery safety, why do you carry personal electronic devices in your pocket? It’s the same technology.”

“So many in New York City are using the small engines with non-UL listed or certified batteries,” Diane Lauricella said, advocating for additional wording in the ordinance to define the types of batteries that should be used.

While some say the equipment is safe if you follow instructions, many people don’t, a landscaper said.

Lisa Henderson called the ordinance “discrimination against small landscape businesses” and said the minority community members struggling to make a living will be damaged by not being able to use leaf blowers on Sunday.

‘Good legislation requires compromise’

In Council debate, Shanahan said the ordinance was inspired by residents complaining about noise after finding themselves at home in the pandemic, and the noise complaints continue.

“Oftentimes, when one finds that a machine is a toxic source of pollution, there aren’t viable alternative machines posing less risk. In this case, we are lucky there is an alternative, which is electric leaf blowers,” Shanahan said.

She quoted a Consumer Reports article published in May as calling electric leaf blowers “the clear winner” in comparison trials.

“We’ve heard a lot about the safety of mining lithium and lithium batteries themselves,” Shanahan said. “Of course, energy extraction is an environmentally disruptive activity. Whether we’re drilling for oil, fracking for gas or mining for lithium, most energy sources are implicitly combustible. And that said lithium batteries are safe enough that we allow ourselves and our children to carry cell phones around in our pockets all day. We sit in front of computers powered by them, and we drive in vehicles propelled by non-binding energy sources that do not add toxic fumes and carbon to our environment as do gas oil and propane is essential to lowering the impact of climate change.”

The ordinance immediately requires landscapers to wear safety equipment, she said.

In the summer months, gas leaf blowers can be used on pool decks, patios and other impervious surfaces, she said. They can be used to clean up after hurricanes and other disasters.

Hours of operation are:

  • Monday through Friday, excluding state and federal holidays: between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Saturday: between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
  • Sundays and state and federal holidays: property owners and tenants in possession of real property only and only between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

As for need for a second vote in 2026, “Good legislation requires compromises by everyone to ensure that all voices and needs are represented,” Shanahan said. “We’re trying to give everybody a chance to understand that change is coming and to plan for that change. And the majority of our community believes that this new ordinance is an appropriate compromise that serves our residents, our landscape workers, our city budgetary needs, the business community and the environment.”

Council member Bryan Meek (R-District D) called the ordinance a “solution looking for problems,” that “sticks it to the homeowner quite a bit in terms of increased costs.”

Council member Nora Niedzielski-Eichner (D-At Large) called it “an opportunity.”

“The City has already announced that we are hiring more blight inspectors. That was part of why we chose to have this ordinance enforced through our blight department,” she said. Small business owners can get zero interest loans for equipment through Kiva, a crowdsource-funded loan program the City partnered with last year.

Council member Jenn McMurrer (D-District C) voted against the ordinance, saying, “I think we can all agree gas is bad for the environment, but so are the mining of and disposal or lack thereof of batteries. I do not think it is our role to trade one problem for another. I am also concerned about the use of child labor to mine the cobalt needed for lithium batteries.”

She said, “None of us have a crystal ball and I don’t believe in making policies for years in the future. I want to base it on the facts we are available now.”

Council member Nicol Ayers (D-District A) said she has “some very serious concerns the impact of this ordinance on the everyday worker” and that even though the Ordinance Committee tried, “efforts have fallen short in engaging all community members.”

The Camacho Amendment “is said to be failsafe, but rather is a safe way to fail,” she said. And other neighborhoods have noise problems, “But we did not make any special ordinances for those communities.”

Ayers voted no.

Council member Ed Camacho (D-At Large) said, “This ordinance has the potential to be super expensive for the city of Norwalk and really harsh on small companies as well … But it is inevitable, I think that this technology will become the norm.”

He voted in favor because of the delay and need for a second vote, he said. “We are really sending a signal to the not only the landscaping community to homeowners, but also to people and the companies that produce this technology.”

Council member Diana Révolus (D-District B) spoke of the human rights situation in other countries where lithium is mined. She abstained.

Council Majority Leader Darlene Young (D-District B) said the revisions and the responsiveness to the folks who spoke at the public hearing in July had reversed her opposition to the ordinance.

“Noise is an issue of all kinds in the city,” she said. “I appreciate my fellow colleagues mentioning that and so we need to address that but I’m comfortable with the flexibility in this ordinance.”

Comments

12 responses to “Council limits leaf blower usage, plans ban in 2027, pending technology improvements”

  1. Edward Fontaine

    So when the batteries are used up will they just be thrown away and who’s gonna recycle them , wait till the heavy metals leach into the water. People aren’t that responsible. And blight enforcement is a joke we have a property that’s literally a junkyard cops come and nothing changes.

  2. Bryan Meek

    The most significant data point facing Norwalk is how just over 10 years ago 66% of housing was home owner occupied and today that number is 53% and falling rapidly. 10% of the voting age population elected a supermajority government and that number will shrink too as the numbers of citizens who simply don’t care who run’s their lives continues to increase fueled by a government that wants you to believe that packing every square inch of the city with cheaply built apartments is good for the environment as long as we get rid of things like plastic straws, bags, and leaf blowers.

  3. Betsy Wrenn

    Hurray for Norwalk! Thank you, Lisa Shanahan and all of our dedicated Council members, for giving us some relief from the racket, clouds of stench and outrageous disruptions to daily life the indiscriminate use of these monstrous machines has caused – for decades! I am so looking forward to opening the windows on the peaceful, fragrant summer days this ordinance affords!

  4. Neal Konstantin

    Thank you Common Council for voting in these restrictions! Gas leaf blowers are a public nuisance, and produce noise as well as air pollution. Landscaping has been done for centuries without them, and most work can be done with rakes in the same amount of time. There is no reason for the public to be subjected to these devices when alternatives are available.

  5. John Levin

    For any person who has looked outside of Norwalk, you will notice that this type of ordinance is the wave of the present nationwide. Palm Beach, for example, banned gas-powered leaf blowers on any size property starting over a year ago. Literally hundreds of cities and towns have adopted similar bans, and this number will only grow. Forward thinking commercial grade equipment makers like Stihl and Husqarna already have adapted to this change by developing and selling a broad array of competitive battery powered devices. At least one large national retailer of gardening equipment announced that it will be phasing out gas powered lawn equipment to be replaced with battery powered equipment in coming years. Astute business owners who provide landscaping services have paid attention and adjusted their own businesses already, or plan to. All of this is now. The 3- and 4- year lead times offered by Norwalk’s new ordinance before gas powered leaf blowers likely become prohibited are ample, and even generous compared to the actions of other towns and cities.

    For the people who want to make gas powered leaf blowers a culture war issue, or remain convinced that local ordinances banning gas powered leaf blowers are examples of nanny-state overreach, reflect for a moment on similar complaints decades ago when seat belts were first required to be installed in cars and when local ordinances banned smoking in bars and restaurants. The world has not ended, people are healthier and safer, and we are not slaves in a communist dictatorship.

  6. Tysen Canevari

    Well i wouldnt open your windows just yet Betsy. None of the landscapers will comply until it is affordable and sufficient enough to do the job. They banned chemicals on public parks in norwalk too. Do you see any weeds at the golf course or on the green? Westport hasnt given one ticket in a years time and neither will Norwalk

  7. Tysen Canevari

    Neal, How can you say the work would be done in the same time with a blower or a rake? Perhaps the same result can be achieved. However, do you ship things via Fedex or do you use a horse and buggy? Same results but different paths to get there. Rest my case

  8. Mike Murray

    Wait til people start taking their dead batteries out on their boats and dropping them into the sound because it will be too expensive to dispose of them

  9. Priscilla Feral

    Fear-mongering aside, fundamental change and breaking the status quo is difficult.

    The City of Norwalk admits that internal-combustion leaf blowers are recognized as “hyper-polluters,” emitting significant carbon and noncarbon emissions in greater magnitudes than automobiles over similar operating periods. I appreciate that recognition and the related ordinance passed, especially given a new report that showed Fairfield County ranked 37 among the top 100 counties for carbon dioxide emissions from lawn and garden equipment in 2020 — generating 136,200 tons of carbon dioxide, an equivalent to 29,983 cars.

    Change is ahead — although taking longer than hoped. Meanwhile, we should be doing everything in our power — in backyards and in communities — to protect the planet, and all who call it home, including ourselves.

    Lawn care doesn’t have to pollute the air or annoy our ears and air quality should be every person’s priority. One path forward is to prevent the climate from intensifying.

  10. Drew Todd

    Hyper Polluters ??!?! Really!?!? That’s right up there like “Super Spreader Events” Yeah that was BS as well. And so is this Ban! My electric Blower..BTW, how is electricity made?!?! Anyone!??! But I digress..My electric which takes a plug IMO and I’m sure neighbors would agree is LOUDER then the gas powered ones and is not as strong and takes more time..So, so much for your BS Noise Pollution. I guess it’s OK because it fits your Green Deal BS Narratives. Further how much “Pollution” does it REALLY give off?!?! Give me a BREAK! But nothing like caving to a few people who like to sound the alarm about Cow Poop and we should stop eating meat. So, the City while barely holding the line on wasteful spending and more and more and more money to Estrella’s piggy bank for schools that barley teach basics of reading and math but our kids know what bathroom to use. How many more MILLIONS will this cost!?!? I’m just curious has anyone actually done and hypothetical math?!?! PLUS all the vehicles that I’m sure will be turned over to EV they will be lucky to get more than 3 hours of actual work before needing a charge. And whomever does the math please don’t be the same person that did the math for the new and not needed Bob Duff High. But wait we’re also getting rid of telephone poles! WOOO HOO!! It’s amazing once again the stupidity of the CC and short sightedness and they just love to destroy business. But let’s build 15,000 more apartments because some politicians are getting their pockets greased. This ranks right up there with the Paper Straw in the Plastic Wrapping. And lastly whom is going to enforce this!?!? I can’t wait for that one. Will it be NPD? Well, why not the war on Cops continues in this State so it’s a fare assumption. It will come down oh never mind chasing the car with the music blaring or the illegal dirt bikes that just an FYI RUN ON GAS. NOPE its Neighbor VS. Neighbor AGAIN and giving out fines for using a small and efficient tiny motor with minimal noise and barely pollutes the atmosphere leaf blowers…Boo Hoo! But just WAIT folks just like NY they will be coming for our gas stoves next! You really can’t teach stupid….

  11. Martin Devaney

    Well said Drew. Extremely civil

  12. Victor Cavallo

    Another take on this ordinance and it’s practical consequences:

    On September 1, 2024, leaf blowers will be prohibited within the boundaries of Norwalk during certain months and under certain conditions, for the remainder of 2024, all of 2025 and most of 2026.

    I compared prohibitions between portable and wheeled gas and electric leaf blowers, and with the operation of gas engine lawn mowers and snow blowers.

    The ban on leaf blowers seemingly applies equally to wheeled gas and corded electric leaf blowers- those which are used to aggregate huge piles of leaves in preparation of vacuuming them onto trucks with gas wood chippers for dumping at landfills.

    The similarities in noise and pollution levels between gas lawn mowers and gas leaf blowers were not a material consideration in the drafting of this ordinance.

    1. Safety: As to gas leaf blowers (portable and wheeled): landscape company employees must be prohibited by their employers from operating any gas leaf blowers without using OSHA-approved ear and respiratory protection: sound-blocking ear cups and gas masks. This particular ordinance doesn’t apply to operating electric leaf blowers or gas engine lawn mowers. This takes effect on September 1, 2024. From my observations of the conditions under which landscape workers currently operate, it doesn’t appear that the City of Norwalk has any such safety requirements currently in effect.

    2. Non-impervious surfaces (lawns, gardens, trails, woodlands, etc.):
    (a) anybody (landscape company workers and private citizens) can use any leaf blower in Spring (between April 1 through June 1, 2025 and 2026); and Fall (between October 15 through December 15 2024 and 2025- maybe not 2026).
    (b) nobody can use any leaf blower, during Summer (from June 2 through October 14 2025 and 2026), and Winter (from December 16 through March 31, 2024, 2025 and 2026).
    (c) BUT: As to impervious surfaces, (patios, pool decks, walks, parking lots, cars and streets), electric leaf blowers can be used any day of the year in 2024, 2025 and 2026!

    3. Use prohibition consequences and outcomes, among others: These prohibitions don’t apply in winter 2024, spring 2024 and most of Summer 2024. Between September 1, and October 14, 2024, and during early Fall of 2025 and 2026, you’ll have to allow falling autumn leaves to accumulate on your lawn until October 15 unless you use your lawn mower to mulch them or you hand-rake them. It’s uncertain what the fate of autumn leaves will be in 2027. You can blow grass clippings, tassels, whirlybirds, pine cones, leaves and acorns, etc. from your pool and backyard decks, parking spaces, and walks at any time with an electric leaf blower but if you blow them onto your lawn during Summer and Winter 2025 and 2026, and want to clean them up, you’ll have to start-up your gas engine lawn mower to mulch or spread them; or you can hand rake them.

    4. Operating hours when not disallowed in late-2024, 2025 and 2026: for gas or electric leaf blowers: Monday through Friday, (non-holidays): between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.; Saturday: between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. On Sundays and state and federal holidays only “property owners and tenants in possession of real property” can operate leaf blowers between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.

    5. BUT: contrast the operating hours for gas engine lawn mowers or snow blowers with similar noise levels – only the standard noise-ordinance hours seemingly apply:
    (a) they can be used on any day of the year;
    (b) they can be used Monday-Friday, one hour earlier and one hour later, from 7 a.m. – 8 p.m., on Saturdays, one hour earlier and one hour later from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m., on Sundays, by anyone, one hour earlier and four hours later from 9 a.m.- 8 p.m., .and by anyone on any holiday (whether or not state or Federal), one hour earlier and four hours later between 9 a.m.- 8 p.m.

    6. Time prohibition consequences and outcomes: among others, during Spring and Fall Saturdays when gas leaf blowers are permitted, you will have to stop using your leaf blower at 5:00 pm and switch to your gas engine lawn mower if you want to move around your grass clippings tassels, whirlybirds, pine cones, leaves and acorns on your lawn or garden between 5 p.m. and 8 pm.

    7. Mayoral powers: The Mayor may suspend leaf blower prohibitions to allow for storm and hurricane clean-up. The Mayor may ban the use of leaf blowers in-toto, during droughts and other water emergencies. If a drought is declared in 2024, 2025 and/or 2026, you may have to leave your autumn leaves on your lawns untouched until, the drought is alleviated or perhaps the use of electric leaf blowers is allowed for use on your lawn at all times. This particular ordinance doesn’t apply to gas engine lawn mowers or snow blowers.

    8. Penalties: Upon initial violation, a written warning with no penalty may be issued; upon any further violation, a penalty of not more than $250 per subsequent offense may be imposed, with each offense being fined separately cumulatively. The ordinance doesn’t say which municipal agency is authorized to enforce and impose these fines, with which which agency may a complaint be filed, and when, or to whom and how to pay any fines. Does one call 911? Must the agent with authority (e.g. a police officer) observe the violation being committed or will a statement, verified or unverified, from a complainant be enough?

    9. Remedies: If you disagree with a $250 fine YOU WILL HAVE TO SPEND THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS TO HIRE A LAWYER AND CHALLENGE IT IN SUPERIOR COURT and the City will have to spend thousands of dollars to defend it. There is no formal appeals process.

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