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Greenwich Takes Sides on Leaf Blower Use at Forum

GREENWICH, Conn. — A homegrown group questioned the need for using leaf blowers, citing noise pollution and health risks at a town forum Tuesday night.

"I grew up here. There have always been beautiful estates, properties and manicured lawns before we had leaf blowers, so I'm sure we can get by without them," said Gretchen Biggs, founder of Citizens Against Leafblower Mania, also known as CALM, who spoke on a panel at the forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Greenwich. Other panelists included Caroline Baisley, director of the Department of Health; Bruce Spaman, tree superintendent; William Dunster, a Greenwich landscaper; and First Selectman Peter Tesei.

CALM had presented the Board of Selectmen with a proposal to adopt a partial ban on the devices from April 15 to Oct. 15, at its April 8 meeting.

In Greenwich, a noise ordinance restricts the use of gasoline-powered leaf blowers to one per parcel, regardless of the size of the parcel from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The machines are also restricted to operation from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Violators face fines of $100.

Baisley said the Board of Health voted unanimously Monday night not to change the noise ordinance. "There's no conclusive, well-grounded scientific data providing medical evidence of health risks associated specifically with leaf blower use," said Baisley, reading the resolution. "Whether to ban gasoline-powered leaf blowers is a quality of life issue and not a health issue."

Spaman said the town uses leaf blowers to maintain all public lands, including parks, playgrounds and athletic fields, and opposes a further ban. "This was a technology we have embraced ... we're trying to move ahead and do a job as best we can in what we do," said Spaman. "I think leaf blowers are a good tool, and we've got them in our arsenal."

Dunster, a landscape contractor and resident, said leaf blowers allow his company and other landscapers to work more efficiently, particularly at homes with large acreages. To ban leaf blowers would bring down the quality of work and hike costs for consumers. He suggested the town change hours of operation and include waivers for families who want to take care of their own landscaping needs.

Rye, N.Y., was successful in banning the use of the blowers from May 1 through Sept. 30 in 2008. No towns in Connecticut have imposed such a ban, but Biggs says she wants Greenwich to be a leader in these efforts. "Whether or not we recognize the health impacts ... as a quality of life matter we can and should stop using leaf blowers in the summer," she said. "They're being used excessively, inefficiently and constantly."

Since the Board of Health nixed a noise ordinance change, Tesei said the only other avenue would be through the Board of Selectmen. The board would have to take up a new ordinance under quality of life, hold several public hearings and make a decision. If approved, the ordinance would have to be approved by the Representative Town Meeting, which meets only three more times in 2011. "If there is an adoption it has to get to the RTM, realistically, I envision a best-case scenario, it could happen by October," said Tesei. "Worst-case scenario, they do not see until next year, if at all."

The Division of Environmental Services can answer questions on the noise ordinance from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at 203-987-1001.

Do you think there should be a ban on leaf blowers in Greenwich? Comment below or send your response ahelhoski@mainstreetconnect.us .

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