BIRMINGHAM — As the leaves start to fall onto lawns, residents and lawn service companies are starting to fire up their leaf blowers to maintain properties throughout the community.
On Oct. 3, the Birmingham City Commission held an open discussion at a workshop about the problems associated with these machines.
Nicholas Dupuis, Planning director led the conversation. He was followed by a presentation from the City Commission.
At a Jan. 10 meeting Commissioner Clinton Baller brought up leaf blowers. Dupuis spoke of his original concerns about noise and the environment, but he was unable attend the recent workshop.
Dupuis stated that he began to investigate the issue and found that many communities are starting to address it, even though most are located on the coast.
Dupuis discovered that leaf-blowers have a problem using their two-stroke engines. These engines have not been much improved since 1950.
Dupuis acknowledged some of the many benefits that leaf blowers offer during the meeting. Dupuis stated they are powerful, simple-to-maintenance and abundant.
“I would say the list of problems outweighs the list of benefits,” Dupuis said.
He divided the problems into three main categories: environment, noise, emissions.
“The main problem is it is an oil-and-gas mixture, and not all of that oil-and-gas mixture gets burned as the leaf blower operates, so out of the exhaust you get oil-and-gas mixture, not only into the air but into the ground, so over time, that tends to build up,” Dupuis said.
He stated that the emissions problem could eventually lead to water quality and public safety problems in the surrounding area.
Dupuis stated, “A leaf blower can produce sound levels exceedingly high 100 decibels.” These are low-frequency sound waves. These noise factors can be combined to make it possible for the noises to reach people at home.
Dupuis presented several possible solutions at his presentation to the City Commission. Dupuis suggested possible options, including amendments of the noise ordinance, restrictions and total ban. Dupuis was open for suggestions from others.
According to the current noise ordinance, equipment operations are permitted between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., as long as the sound does not exceed 100 dBA — which is a sound level of decibels weighted to human hearing — at or beyond the property line of the property on which the equipment is operated. This could be changed to offer a solution.
The meeting also suggested that Ann Arbor, Michigan be considered as a place that has banned the use two-cycle engines in its Downtown Development Authority District.
After the presentation, it became clear that this issue affected everyone in the city and not just residents.
“Noise doesn’t discriminate by the operator,”Tom Markus, City Manager.
Markus stated that he believes that electric-powered leaf blowers should be installed in the city.
Mayor Therese L. Longe shared her ideas with the commission. She suggested that the commission start with an educational plan to help residents understand the negative effects of leaf blowers. She also suggested that quiet hours should be established with limitations on usage. She also suggested that anyone who is looking to replace equipment should go electric.
Discussions held during workshops don’t lead to any resolution by the City Commission, and no votes can be cast.
After the workshop discussion, there was no public comment.