By Bob Seidenberg
Evanston City Council members’ approval of a new leaf-blower ordinance has started the clock running for the eventual phasing out of gas-powered leaf blowers.
At their Monday, November 8 meeting, Council members approved the leaf blower ordinance as part of their consent agenda, which allows them to approve a batch of agenda items without discussion.
Held over from earlier this year, with council members seeking more feedback from community members, the groundbreaking ordinance amends the time and days when leaf blowers may be used, sets a new fine structure, establishes penalties and calls for a transition from the use of gas-powered leaf blowers to electric blowers effective April 1, 2023.
A number of environmental groups pushed for the elimination of the gas-powered leaf blowers, citing concerns such as noise levels and the effect on the environment and wildlife habitats.
A speaker at one of the meetings, Nina Kraus, a professor at Northwestern University and a biologist whose research includes the effect of sound on the brain, told Council members that excessive and unwanted sound, such as produced by leaf-blowers, “has biological effects,” and can create “health issues that affect our cardiovascular health or physical health … our cognitive abilities – you know, how we think.”
Members of the City’s Environment Board brought the proposed changes to the Council last year, in line with the City’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan. The Environment Board’s proposal recommended officials “phase out the use of gas- and propane-powered leaf blowers and construction equipment” and “provide a timeline by which they need to be replaced with electric or battery-powered options.”
Phasing out gas-powered leaf blowers “isn’t just about noise,” said Kyle Campbell, a Third Ward resident, in an email response to the Council’s vote.
“That the city moved leaf blower regulations from ‘Nuisance’ to ‘Health and Safety’ regulations reflects this,” he said.
“Air pollution kills 10 million people yearly – twice as many as COVID did – and there is no vaccine against air pollution,” Campbell said. “Protecting and improving our air quality affects us all. Banning gas leaf blowers is a simple, effective step, and increasingly common step.”
Investment in enforcement, equipment needed
In support of the action, Cara Pratt, the city’s new Sustainability and Resilience Coordinator, said in a memo to council members that “these changes will reduce the impact of leaf-blower use throughout Evanston and will create stronger opportunities for enforcement.”
She noted that a Leaf Blower Working Group, formed as an outgrowth of the Environment Board’s work on the issue, has identified the need to budget for enforcement personnel and allocated resources toward purchasing new landscaping equipment to comply with the ordinance.
“The Leaf Blower Working Group also recommends continued sustainable landscaping education and communication with Evanston residents, regional landscaping contractors, and local businesses that sell leaf blowers,” she said.
During the hearings, representatives of some of the city’s landscaping firms spoke of the greater effectiveness of gas-powered blowers on large-scale jobs as well as the time-consuming impracticality of relying on the electric-powered blowers favored by some environmentalists for big jobs.
Firm’s recommended changes not part of ordinance
Paul Klitzkie, general manager of Nature’s Perspective Landscaping, a company that has been in Evanston for 42 years, expressed disappointment November 11 that some suggestions his firm had made as part of the transition were not incorporated into the ordinance.
Klitzkie had worked with Dr. Clark Elliott, a Second Ward resident who has been a strong advocate of the move to electric-powered blowers.
One of the proposals called for no exemptions for the city of Evanston, the school districts, the golf courses, or for properties leased from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.
The ordinance approved by the City Council November 8 exempts these areas from the gas-powered leaf-blower ban: city baseball fields and artificial turf fields; the in-play areas of golf courses; and construction projects involving paving, repair or patching of public streets.
School district property was not mentioned in the ordinance draft included in the Council’s October 25 packet.
While lawn maintenance companies and others are being asked to come into compliance, “it’s unfortunate” the city is not leading the way, Klitzkie said, noting the purchase of electric-powered blowers is not included in the city budget.
Another proposal called for a detailed calendar for the mandated changes with specific dates so that businesses – “with customer and equipment-supply contracts to consider,” the proposal said – “can plan, and resentment caused by uncertainty is lowered.”
Nature’s Perspective has invested significantly in electric-powered leaf blowers, Klitzkie said, and the company is committed to an environmentally responsible future in Evanston.
Electric-powered blowers are quiet and can do the job under normal circumstances, he said. But there still is the issue of keeping the battery charged over a full day’s service.
Gas-powered blowers remain more effective on certain wet days dispersing heavy leaf piles, Klitzkie said. “Technology is catching up, it’s getting there,” he said, expressing hope that Nature’s Perspective will be a pioneer in the move to the technology.
Some features of the new ordinance:
Before April 1, 2023, gasoline-powered or propane-powered leaf blowers may be used but only from March 30 to May 15; and October 15 to the first Thursday in December. There are no seasonal restrictions, however, on the use of electric-powered leaf blowers.
The hours any leaf blowers may be used are limited to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
Leaf blower use is eliminated altogether on all city-recognized holidays.