Artist says leaf blowers are blowing minds

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Artist and antiques dealer Rob Kelly has had enough of noisy leaf blowers disturbing him as he works or relaxes, so he’s lobbying local, state and federal policy makers to have them banned.

Mr. Kelly joined fellow artist Hope Sandrow’s performance art project “On The Road” on Montauk Highway in Shinnecock Hills last Thursday morning, April 24, to kick off his anti-leaf blower initiative, “(Leaf)Blowing Our Minds.” He posed on a picnic blanket with Ms. Sandrow for a plein air painting as he called politicians’ offices to encourage them to pass laws restricting the use of leaf blowers.

“It’s not just the maddingly obnoxious noise,” he said. The body has a stress response to the high decibel level, according to Mr. Kelly, and he suggested that those who do not believe him should try a long math equation with and without leaf blower noise and see how they fare.

Leaf blowers also send allergens into the air, wreaking havoc on anyone with asthma, especially children, he said. Mr. Kelly went on to say that leaf blowers disperse more than just dirt and pollen, but animal feces, insecticides and pesticides as well.

“They’re kicking up toxic dust,” he said.

Besides blowing what is on the ground, gas-powered leaf blowers’ engines themselves contribute to air pollution, Mr. Kelly said. According to the California Air Resources Board, gas-powered leaf blowers’ two-stroke combustion engines are “inordinately large emitters” of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbon pollution. Because of their effects on neighbors, using leaf blowers is beyond inconsiderate, Mr. Kelly added, saying “we have a smoking ban for the same reason we should have a leaf-blowing ban.”

“People use them like toys” Mr. Kelly said of leaf blowers, claiming he has witnessed blowers used to dust off houses or get snow off cars. “I’ve actually seen one of my neighbors blowing leaves out of the trees.”

Mr. Kelly also claimed that during a five-day period he clocked 27 hours of leaf-blower noise he could hear from his home in Hampton Bays, adding that those hours did not include the faint sounds of distant blowers.

He said before leaf blowers were available, it was okay to leave a stick on the road or a leaf on the lawn, but not anymore. Homeowners still had nice properties then, Mr. Kelly said, but now it has gotten to the point of being obsessive-compulsive

Though he acknowledged that chain saws can be just as loud as a leaf blowers, Mr. Kelly did not endorse banning them as well. He said a hand saw is not as good of a replacement for a chain saw as a rake is for a leaf blower.

“Certain machines we’re going to have to live with,” he said.

Quogue Village introduced an abatement law against commercial landscaping noise in August 2006. The addition to the village code book restricted the hours professional landscapers could use motor-powered equipment, such as leaf blowers, lawn mowers and trimmers, to between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on a weekday and between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Homeowners themselves do not have to adhere to the conditions when they work on their own property.

The law came as a reaction to complaints from residents, as landscapers’ hours of operations seemed to be ever extending, said Chris Osborne, code enforcement officer for Quogue Village.

Noise complaints have gone down in the village since the law passed, he said, adding that he’ll have a better impression of its effectiveness soon as the law enters its second season.

But there is still sentiment in the village that leaf blowers should be completely banned.

“We have some that find it to be an outright nuisance, and 90 percent of the time it’s somebody that works from home,” Mr. Osborne said, adding that many writers have found the village to be a quite haven. “People come out for their peace and quiet. That’s what Quogue is known for.”

In Southampton Village, there is an outright ban on leaf blowers between Memorial Day and Labor Day, whether the user be the homeowner or a commercial landscaper. The only exception to the 2004 law is “necessary cleanup after a major storm,” according to the village’s code book.

“The law is good,” said Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley. However, “the enforcement aspect has a lot to be desired.”

Mr. Epley pointed out that a police officer or an ordinance inspector needs to catch someone in the act of using a leaf blower to cite them, but violators of the leaf blower ban are usually done by the time the cops arrive.

“I had one guy who came in and said at a Village Board meeting, ‘I don’t care what you do, I’m still using a leaf blower and you can write me up,’” Mr. Epley said. He added that leaf blower noise is an issue in the village this time of year, every year, but as much as neighbors hate the noise, the landscapers rely on the blowers for efficiency.

Chuck Frankenbach of Chuck’s Landscaping in North Sea said leaf blowers are necessary. “They’re lost without the blowers,” he said of his colleagues.

When it comes to cleaning up after mowing a lawn, leaf blowers remove some grass clippings and leave others behind to put the nutrients back into the soil, Mr. Frankenbach said. Using the grass itself as a fertilizer is better for the environment than using chemical fertilizers, he added. Also, when granular fertilizers are used on a lawn, leaf blowers are used to blow them off sidewalks and patios so they do not leave iron stains behind, he said.

Echoing Ms. Kelly’s sentiment that homeowners have become obsessive over their lawns, Mr. Frankenbach said Southampton landscapers work for a high-end clientele who like properties taken care of very meticulously.

“These people want something that looks great,” he said. “You’re not going to do it with a broom.”

Mr. Frankenbach said that he understands a ban after 6 or 7 p.m., or all day on Sundays, but in the case of an outright ban, he expects landscapers will use their blowers anyway until they see an ordinance inspector driving down the road.

Passing a leaf blower ban might make some people happy, Mr. Frankenbach acknowledged, but he added that it is not the politicians who are doing the labor.

Mr. Kelly said that while he made several calls Thursday morning to lobby policy makers, the kickoff to “(Leaf)Blowing Our Minds” was mostly symbolic. For the future, he is hoping other activists will join him at Ms. Sandrow’s “On the Road” to encourage drivers to stop and sign a petition against leaf blowers.

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