By Gretchen Webster
WESTPORT — Controversy erupted Monday as a Representative Town Meeting committee met to discuss a revised draft ordinance to regulate leaf blowers when one of the members left abruptly, saying the session was not legitimate.
Wendy Batteau (RTM District 8 Member) and of Health and Human Services Committee resigned from Zoom after accusing the panel not to consider her concerns. “the human aspect”Leaf blowers can cause serious health problems.
“This is the Health AND Human Services Committee, so we are here to talk about people and how they are affected by leaf blowers,” Batteau said.
Batteau responded to Jessica Bram, District 6’s chairwoman of the committee, when she confirmed that only health-related issues would be discussed. “Then, in that case, I’m going to vote no because this is not a legitimate meeting”Afterwards, he left the meeting.
When the committee eventually voted 5-0 in favor of the revised leaf blower ordinance at the end of the meeting, however, Batteau’s “no”Vote was not included because she was not present to vote.
Chris Tait (District 1), who was a member the Committee, abstained. His intention was to advocate full RTM adoption. However, he didn’t have enough information at this time to make a final decision.
Others at the meeting who had concerns about the ordinance — which has sparked controversy since it was proposed last year — included several landscapers who said they favor using equipment that does not harm the environment and health, such as electric or battery-powered leaf blowers. Landscapers expressed concern that the technology to power electric leaf blowers is not yet fully developed as they had done at previous meetings.
“The industry is trying to improve itself — it will get to the point where it’s all electric,”John Horan, a landscaper from Norwalk, said that he grew up in Westport. “But right now the equipment just isn’t out there now to do the job.”
Jason Caneperi, Buildings, grounds and nnvironment manager at the Fairfield County Hunt Club, agreed. “We look forward to a better time,”He said, but not right now. “I don’t know what we would do without using those [gas-powered leaf blowers].”
Most of the speakers were residents or members of committees calling for an ordinance to limit gas-powered leaf blowers.
They cited damage to people’s hearing from the high-decibel noise generated by leaf blowers, particulates in the air causing damage to lungs and even anxiety issues when work or rest at home is disrupted by nearby leaf blowers.
Kristin Schneeman (District 9) was the leader of pro-leaf blower ordinance negotiations. Bram, Liz Milwe in District 1, Harris Falk in District 2, Nancy Kail in District 9, and Cathy Talmadge are all cosponsors.
“Most of us would agree that leaf blowers are a nuisance,”Schneeman said. But beyond blowers’ loud noise, she cited the health impact of air pollution generated by the equipment that can worsen asthma, cancer and lung and heart diseases.
“Residents are asking us for it,”Schneeman spoke out about the ordinance, citing more 100 emails from residents supporting the proposed ordinance.
The current version of the proposal — which would impose limits on the times and places where gas-powered leaf blowers could be used — has been modified in the past year in response to comments at previous meetings, she added.
She stated that leaf blowers are exempted from municipal property and golf courses.
Another change in the ordinance is that enforcement of the regulation will be delegated to the town’s Conservation Department staff, instead of the Police Department, and property owners will be cited when violations occur, and not the landscaper or other person operating the equipment, Schneeman said.
The proposed ordinance would permit gas-powered leaf brooms to be used only between March 15 – April 30, and Oct. 15 – Dec. 31, respectively. Electric blowers can be used throughout the year. Electric and gas blowers are not permitted to be used before 8 a.m., or later than 5 pm on holidays or state or Federal holidays.
Both private and public landscapers, as well as staff from Parks and Recreation and Public Works, stated late last year that the proposed ordinance would make it difficult to do their work. They claimed that fall cleanup, maintenance of the golf courses, and other groundkeeping tasks would all be affected.
RTM members were informed last year by Foti Koskinas that he was concerned about the enforcement of the ordinance. He said that many of the landscaping workers in this area were undocumented immigrants, and that officers would need identification to respond to noise complaints. This would require a more complicated investigation, which would tie up officers who would be needed elsewhere.
The revised ordinance is expected to come before several other RTM committees in the next few months including the Environment Committee before being referred to the full legislative body, Bram said at Monday’s meeting.But for some at Monday’s meeting, adoption of the modified leaf blowing ordinance can’t happen soon enough to help with the noise, pollution and health problems the devices cause.
“They say they’re not ready for the future, but we have to be,”Tanvi Gorre, a senior at Staples High School said about those who opposed the ordinance at the RTM Committee meeting. “Change doesn’t come from comfort; it comes from necessity. If we’re going to continue to wait — my questions is till when?”
Gretchen Webster works as a freelance journalist. She was also a journalist from Fairfield County.
Below is the complete text of the proposed leaf blower ordinance.