Takoma Park bans gas powered leaf blowers used by public works staff
Public works staff will need extended hours, temporary labor
A ban on the city's use of gasoline-powered leaf blowers in Takoma Park aims to protect the environment, but it will also double the number of temporary labor hours needed for leaf removal and extend the time needed to maintain public space.
With a vote of 4-2, the Takoma Park City Council passed the resolution Jan. 10, prohibiting Department of Public Works staff from using the city's five gas-powered leaf blowers to clear leaf debris from gardens in the fall and spring; clear grass clippings from the street and sidewalk in the spring and summer; and clear dust, wood chips, leaves and other debris from paved surfaces during construction projects or tree removals. Council members Terry Seamens (Ward 4) and Fred Schultz (Ward 6) voted against the ban.
City staff estimated that the ban, which went into effect Jan. 11, will result in an additional cost of $3,000 to $4,000 to pay for temporary workers to remove leaves. Any project that requires street or sidewalk cleaning after mowing or construction will increase in cost because the task would extend the hours of the work crew or contractor.
"Basically, it will take us longer to do the things that we do if we're using manual methods versus leaf blowers for things like picking up grass clippings or blowing the leaves out of garden areas," said Daryl Braithwaite, public works director, at the council meeting.
Those in favor of the ban cite noise and air pollution as reason to prohibit city use of gas-powered leaf blowers. Those opposed say the ban will increase the time it takes for public works employees to clean leaves and debris and will be costly for the city.
Three public works staff members were among those speaking out against the ban, saying that it will significantly increase the time it will take to clean parks and that the department is already strapped for cash.
"It's a tool that we would like to keep to enhance our operation greatly," said Troy Fingal, right of way supervisor for public works, about the leaf blowers. "It's a very limited force that we have to take care of this city."
In response to a suggestion that public works look into electric leaf blowers, Fingal said that they are not as powerful as their gas-powered counterparts.
Public works staff also noted that the city should not ban the leaf blowers without providing an alternative option for clearing leaves and debris from parks.
The ban may also decrease the frequency in which public works staff can mow and maintain public areas and parks, Braithwaite said.
But those in favor of the ban said they are willing to accept less frequent park maintenance in exchange for a decrease in noise levels and negative environmental impact.
"I continue to be supportive of this," said Councilman Josh Wright (Ward 1) ."I think what we've decided is this is the first step. We know it's going to cost additional money. We know there's going to be not as frequent maintenance of the fields. I think this is a sacrifice we're willing to make for the environmental benefit."
If the ban negatively impacts the city, Wright said, the council can always reassess the decision. And perhaps residents will view the city as an example and decide not to use gas-powered leaf blowers themselves.
Schultz disagreed, saying he believed residents need to decide how they want their parks maintained first and then decide whether to prohibit leaf blowers.
"We're saying to the same staff, We're going to take away your computers and ask you to use typewriters, because we want to save electricity,' " Schultz said. " But don't worry; the work is going to get done. It'll just take longer.' "
The Takoma Park Task Force on Environmental Action issued a report April 30 recommending prohibiting the use of gas and other fossil fuel powered leaf blowers. But this isn't the first time the idea has been presented; the council discussed a gas-powered leaf blower ban in earnest in 2009, but never voted on a resolution.