The Greenport Village Board will continue to discuss a popular but controversial proposal to ban gas-powered leaf blowers at a special work session on Thursday, after debate at last week’s board meeting made it clear that its members are divided on the issue.

The meeting’s primary skeptic on the proposed ban was Zoning Board of Appeals chairman John Saladino, who is also a member of the village code committee.

In a lengthy address to the Village Board, Mr. Saladino made reference to a previous public hearing on the leaf blower issue last month, and suggested that Mayor Kevin Stuessi had sought to push a ban through prematurely instead of taking time to hear from more of the community. Residents at that earlier meeting were unanimous in their support for a ban, citing two key issues: noise and environmental damage — in terms of both air pollution and dust being constantly blown around the village.

“There was a suggestion that the public hearing be closed, and a vote be taken with a particular ban in place … We have never done that,” Mr. Saladino said. “I’ve chaired 100 public hearings and we have never done that. We have never not taken into consideration someone else’s job [and] given that industry, a representative from that industry, a chance to respond.

“I thought it was unreasonable. I told him it was unreasonable,” he said, referring to the mayor. “The industry we’re talking about is obviously landscapers and it’s a demographic — I don’t even know if I’m allowed to say this — the demographic is made up of mostly minority members. Traditionally, we don’t see a lot of people from that industry here complaining about stuff that’s going on.”

Mr. Saladino said that a back-of-the-envelope estimate with his own local landscaper of the costs to replace the gas-powered blowers with electric blowers amounts to more than $15,000 — a cost he said would arise again every three to five years when the equipment needs to be replaced.

Lawmakers in Albany have repeatedly sought to institute a rebate program to incentivize switching from gas to electric blowers, but the bills have been vetoed by Gov. Kathy Hochul. The program would offer point-of-sale rebates to commercial landscapers and institutional users, including municipalities, who purchase battery-powered landscaping equipment.

Mr. Saladino also contended that the environmental impact of gas-powered leaf blowers is minuscule compared to air pollution generated elsewhere in the village. 

“I’m sure everyone in this building could name … 10 other things in this village that are far more detrimental to air quality and health, welfare and benefit of the village than [gas-powered] leaf blowers. We have a peaker plant in the woods,” he said. “We have two-cycle diesel motors on the ferry boat, two-cycle diesel motors on the locomotive.

“The fire department advertises on their website they do 70 calls a month: fire engines, diesel engines, ambulances. During the summer we have 2,000 boats in the harbor [or] 1,000 boats. A good 50% to 60% of them are two-stroke gas motors, hundreds of times more polluting hydrocarbons [and] particulate matter than a leaf blower.”

Mr. Saladino went on to note that he owns an electric blower, “just in case people are thinking, like, I own stock in a leaf blower company. I don’t. But I think that industry should get a fair shake.”

In the United States, gas-powered and other fossil fuel-driven lawn and garden equipment emitted more than 30 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2020, according to federal Environmental Protection Agency data cited in a study published in October by a coalition of environmental nonprofits, including the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. 

The study found that Suffolk County was number 12 on a list of the top 100 counties in the nation for lawn and garden equipment emissions, producing nearly 240,000 tons of carbon dioxide in 2020.

A report released in November by the advocacy group MASSPIRG Education Fund estimated that gas-powered lawn equipment in Massachusetts generated 600,000 tons of carbon dioxide in 2020. Nationwide, the report concluded, lawn care equipment produced more than 68,000 tons of nitrogen oxides.

Resident Ken Ludacer pushed back against Mr. Saladino’s objections.

“First, air and noise pollution from gas-powered leaf blowers pose multiple hazards to human health,” he said. “The noise produced by gas-powered leaf blowers may cause hearing loss, high blood pressure —which I can personally attest to —cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. The high intensity noise that gas-powered leaf blowers produce is particularly harmful to the developing ears of infants and young children … The significant contribution of gas-powered leaf blowers to greenhouse gas emissions is irrefutable — by some estimates accounting for as much as 10% of the Co2 discharged annually into the atmosphere.”

Lorraine Kreahling also supports a ban on the gas-powered blowers.

“The noise is impossible to live with,” she told board members. “It goes through windows, it goes through walls, and it goes through bones, as Margaret [de Cruz] said the other night.”

Shan Quinn agreed.

“We are a postage stamp of a village and our homes are small — and we’re right on top of each other,” she said. “And these massive … companies with large leaf blowers, change the whole neighborhood, and you can’t do work.”

A landscaper and Greenport resident who identified himself as Hector said he has been in business for 23 years. “I’ve taken care of this business for a long time,” he said. “I’ve worked here a long time. It was the reason I bought my house [on Fourth Ave.] here, too.”

He said the simplest solution to the problem would be to stop hiring landscapers.

“My opinion is if you don’t want to hear noise, it’s easy … because we are working hard to do the best we can for everyone.”

The issue seems to have divided the board. Mr. Stuessi supports a ban, but others, like trustee Patrick Brennan, were more skeptical. 

“I would still be curious to hear from more people from the industry, that some folks have suggested may be impacted by this. And it’s really unclear in my mind whether we’re concerned about the retooling cost, or we’re concerned about the effect on labor,” he said, referring to the process of switching from gas to electric powered blowers.

“And I’m having a little bit of a difficult time wrapping my head around this, because we’re talking about banning what is really a labor-saving device. Right. So conceivably, that leads to an increase in labor.”

During the discussion, the mayor said he is in favor of a “limited ban initially and then an outright ban longer term, as [trustee] Lily [Dougherty-Johnson] suggested.

“I think it’s an important issue. I believe the noise is of great significance.”

The board voted to close the current public hearing on gas-powered leaf blowers and start over with fresh language, a new proposal and more community consideration.

Deputy mayor Mary Bess Phillips also expressed a desire for more input.

“I think we need to remember that we represent not just this segment of community … but we represent the whole community, the Village of Greenport, and some may not be here speaking.”

Veteran trustee Julia Robins also seemed to have concerns about moving ahead with a ban.

“This is very selective in terms of you know, specifically leaf blowers, because there are many other pieces of equipment that are being used in the village that create a tremendous amount of noise. How about when you’re having tree work done? Chainsaws, actually, if you look up their decibel level are higher than leaf blowers …. I mean, construction — skill saws and chop saws and stuff like that — is well documented that people that work in that industry have hearing loss over the course of their career, because those are very high-pitched. They are also a source of dust and things like that — that everybody’s complaining about.”

Toward the end of the hearing, Mr. Stuessi said his “hope is that we do something that we’re going to be prepared to pass, because what I don’t think is fair to the community to drag this out longer.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *