After putting up with years of annoyance, several East Hampton Town residents have begun organizing in an attempt to force elected officials to do something about noise from gas-powered leaf blowers. These activists can fairly speak on behalf of many others who are vexed by the racket from these machines, which are often used for everything from dusting driveways to drying rain-dampened sidewalks in front of shops. The campaign is overdue.
One of the things that visitors notice when they arrive on the South Fork is how manicured our neighborhoods are. Thanks to an unending supply of low-cost immigrant labor and powerful devices such as blowers, taking care of lawns and gardens has become one of the area’s largest industries. As such, the ban-the-blowers crowd, apparently made up of your average homeowners, may stand little chance of prevailing. It is not surprising that officials would be apt to sympathize with the landscapers, many of whom say blowers are essential. Work can be done with electric blowers, of course, or brooms and rakes, but the louder gasoline blowers seem to be key to quick turnaround on jobs — and better profit margins than would be achieved without ear-splitting mechanization.
In addition to noise, the organizers of the nascent movement have said that air quality can be compromised as blowers whip up chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and mold, among other substances, and that the emissions from the gas-powered devices can be far worse than from a motor vehicle operated for an equal length of time. We worry, too, about the hearing damage the blowers may be doing to the many workers we see without ear protection, workers who are likely not to have health insurance, and who would hesitate if they are in the country without proper documentation to seek help. In such cases, there appears to be a social justice dimension to the devices’ use.
One place to start would be for the towns and villages to phase out their commercial-equipment exemptions on noise limits. There is precedent for strict measures, too: The Village of Southampton does not allow the use of blowers from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and the City of Yonkers, bans them from June 1 to Sept. 30. Similar rules are in place in at least 16 other New York municipalities alone, suggesting that it would be possible to take action here. While the activists are at it, they should press for state or county regulations requiring hearing protection for those who use them.
Lawn-care company owners are going to seek the most cost-effective way to get the job done; that’s just smart business. It is up to the community to guide them toward doing so in a manner that does not also destroy the peace and quiet.