Westport officials say proposed leaf blower ordinance creates issues

Photo of Serenity Bishop
Westport Town Hall, in Westport, Conn. Aug. 24, 2016.

Westport Town Hall, in Westport, Conn. Aug. 24, 2016.

Ned Gerard

WESTPORT — A proposed ordinance that would change when and what kind of leaf blowers can be used in town has been a source of much recent debate.

Director of Public Works Peter Ratkiewich said DPW strives to maintain the infrastructure throughout the year and while the department is not opposed to using electric powered tools, the ordinance as written is not “well-grounded” in the realities of municipal maintenance work.

“On review of the proposed leaf blower ordinance, it appears that it will adversely affect, and in some cases flat out prevent our ability to maintain our infrastructure,” Ratkiewich said. “It is written without regard to the extent of our operations or even what our operations entail.”

He said the proposed ordinance as written will make it impossible for the department to operate without violating the ordinance.

“For us to do our work all town operations would have to be exempt from the ordinance,” he said.

The ordinance proposes that no more than one leaf blower can be used at the same time on any site less than two acres, no gas-powered leaf blower can be used on any state or federal holiday and no leaf blower of any kind can be used before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m.

The goal of the ordinance is to reduce pollution and noise.

Kristin Schneeman, the Representative Town Meeting member who created the ordinance, said she’s not proposing a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, however the core of the ordinance is to place seasonal restrictions.

“We are not asking anyone to ditch gas blowers and purchase all electric blowers,” Schneeman said. “Gas blowers would be allowed for spring and fall cleanup and electric blowers would be allowed year round.”

“One message I heard loud and clear in both memos is that we should exempt the town from the provisions of the ordinance and while that may be the approach in other states and other communities, I personally don’t see how we can do something that the town isn’t willing to do itself and isn’t leading on,” she added.

Jennifer A Fava, director of parks and recreation, also said the ordinance does not benefit her department.

“The proposed ordinance is not well thought out as it relates to real world operations, is short sighted and sets unrealistic parameters that will inhibit our teams ability to complete their daily tasks,” Fava said in a letter to the RTM.

Fava added that the non-gas powered technology is inferior to the traditional gas powered leaf blowers. She said that the pushing forces is greatly reduced and has a shorter run time.

Ratkiewich agreed. He said the ordinance is written as if the two are equivalent in capabilities, cost to operate a fleet and the logistics of refueling.

“They are not,” Ratkiewich said.

He said the restriction would also impact their normal duties of cleaning sidewalks and parking lots, as well as storm cleanup.

He said street sweeping depends on the time of the year and the weather. He said some years they’re starting street sweeping in Marchhowever, other years they are still plowing snow. The work generally begins at 5 or 6 a.m. so that they are not jeopardizing the safety of the public that use the sidewalks.

“It does make noise, but it happens once a year,” Ratkiewich said.

Ratkiewich also questioned the limit of one blower per acre.

“Is it better to have three leaf blowers operating for 15 minutes, or one for an hour and a half?” he said.

He said the current noise ordinance made sense from an operational standpoint and the proposed ordinance should be consistent with that.

Under the current noise ordinance, construction work may start at 7 a.m. and continue until 8 p.m.

“Town forces and operations should be exempt from these time restrictions, just as we are currently exempt from the noise ordinance, otherwise we cannot complete the work that we are required to do,” he said.

He added that the time restrictions in the proposed ordinance are “unrealistic.”

“The crew restrictions make no sense from an operational standpoint and make every operation that requires a blower completely inefficient,” Ratkiewich said.

Police Chief Foti Koskinas said while he doesn’t oppose the proposed ordinance itself, it presents a bigger problem when it comes to enforcing, which could become “tricky.”

“I don’t want to make this a race issue. I don’t want somebody to take my comments out of context, but a lot of our landscapers and the staff that works is undocumented and it creates a serious issue with the police interacts with them,” Koskinas said.

He said if they don’t have identification, the police department has to make custodial arrests until someone can identify who they are. He said as far as the ordinance itself, the police would need documentation on what type of blower was being used in order to enforce it.

“I continue to be here to help you and work with you, I just do not think it’s the best option for the police to get involved in these matters,” Koskinas said.