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An Opinion: Leafblowers

A recent segment on the Charles Osgood show (Sunday morning CBS) explored leaf blowers and the people/communities from Connecticut to California who are finding their noise obnoxious and intrusive. I found the segment fascinating. It caused me to reflect back upon the time 14 years ago before Great Neck Estates had a leaf blower law in effect.

I have been a member of the Great Neck Estates Environmental Conservation Commission for 20 plus years. In 1996, we decided to tackle the leaf blower noise and pollution problem. In order to confront the Trustees and Board, we first collected our facts. We spent hours on the phone locating other communities across the United States that had leaf blower restrictions in effect (time consuming, pre computer days). We requested copies of their laws.

We researched all the relevant health data that we could find, and found plenty- damage to hearing, autonomic nervous system stress (increases in blood pressure and heart rate), higher ozone and carbon monoxide levels in the air, as well as lung damaging particulate matter, herbicides, pesticides, rodent feces, higher pollen, volatile organic compounds, nitrous and sulphur dioxide levels. Think asthma, COPD, bronchitis, allergies,etc.

As the entire community would have to vote to enact  a new law, public hearings had to be scheduled. Local landscaper associations got “wind” of what we were proposing and went to work petitioning their customers with doomsday predictions about skyrocketing costs, less pristine properties, and refusing to work in Great Neck Estates.

We attended community meetings with the Nassau Suffolk Landscape Association and their attorneys. It got a little ugly upon occasion. I was threatened physically and warned to ‘butt out’. Our trustees scheduled a test in GNE park, to allow the Landscapers Association to demonstrate their “new quiet” blowers. (“quiet” was quite an exaggeration).

But we had more hurdles to cross. It was suggested that we get a petition with resident signatures. We decided to ask for a three-month trial ban, after which the community could decide on a permanent law. We got enough signatures to enact a trial ban on blowers.

As the peaceful, quiet summer stretched out, something happened. People began to notice that it was more enjoyable to be outside, whether walking a dog, sitting in the backyard, entertaining, barbecuing, letting kids play outdoors. The streets didn’t look any messier or less pristine than before. And no one got higher gardening bills. At summers’ end, we created a survey to evaluate residents’ opinions. Resident opposition seemed to evaporate, and a permanent leaf blower restriction was voted into effect.

Apparently other communities were watching what would happen in our Village. As soon as we passed our law banning gasoline-powered blowers from June 15 through Sept 15, Thomaston and Russell Gardens followed suit, and passed leaf blower restrictions. May Newburger, then North Hempstead Town supervisor, wanted to pass a leaf blower ban for all of North Hempstead, but, alas, it didn’t happen.

The comments over the years have only been positive, with residents asking why blowers aren’t banned for even longer than the current three-month time frame?  I can only apologize and say that we just didn’t realize. The hurdles we had to cross loomed so large, and seemed impassable. In retrospect, we should have requested a ban that began May 1, as spring clean-ups are all finished by that date. We could not have known how popular, and ahead of its time, our crusade would prove to be. In light of even more compelling health data, and so many other communities seeking the same respite from noise and pollution, I wonder if the time has come to re-visit this issue for all of Great Neck?