Village Leaf Blower Battle Has Only Just Begun

Though legislation to curtail the use of leaf blowers seems likely in East Hampton Village, so, too, does legal pushback from landscapers and a trade organization that represents them. Durell Godfrey

At last week’s East Hampton Village Board meeting, Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. declared that the “handwriting is on the wall” regarding the likelihood of legislation to rein in the use of leaf blowers. The meeting, which drew a large au­­­­dience of landscapers, some of whom expressed their displeasure at the possibility of a leaf blower ban, was a skirmish in what could be a protracted battle between the village and a prominent sector of the East End business community.

The possibility of litigation against the village was raised at the meeting by Donald Mahoney, the president of Mahoney Associates landscaping company, who said that the trade association to which his company belongs — the Nassau Suffolk Landscape Ground Association (N.S.L.G.A.) — would be proactive in fighting any overly burdensome legislation.

H. Pat Voges, the government affairs liaison for the association, said this week that “the blower is a tool that we need to do our job right and to keep your villages beautiful.” Although Mr. Voges cited his past work with East Hampton Town and Southampton to come up with guidelines that strike a balance between unfettered use and over-restrictive regulations — such as limiting the time of day leaf blowers can be used — he drew the line at asking his members to give up leaf blowers altogether. 

Mr. Mahoney pointed out in a telephone conversation this week that the N.S.L.G.A. already offers a quick and easy way to reduce leaf blower usage: by providing instruction to landscapers on the proper use of the devices. “Our association has a training course,” said Mr. Mahoney. “Knowing how to operate leaf blowers correctly can reduce the amount of time they’re in use.” 

On the subject of the noise leaf blowers create, Arthur Graham, the village board member who has taken the lead on this debate, referred to the “earmuffs” landscape workers often wear while using leaf blowers. “To the extent that your equipment is so noisy that you need hearing protection, that kind of raises a little bit of a red flag to us,” he said. 

Mr. Mahoney took issue with Mr. Graham’s statement — drawing a distinction between a company taking steps to protect the health of its workers who are in close proximity to the machines all day long and the noise level residents may be exposed to for, say, 20 minutes from a distance away. “I’m not an audiologist but I can’t imagine what damage that could do to an eardrum,” said Mr. Mahoney.

At the Jan. 9 board meeting, Mr. Graham announced that the board would be mainly looking at limiting the use of leaf blowers between Memorial Day and Labor Day, citing that as a stretch of time when the machines aren’t generally necessary. “In the summertime, you’re really better off leaving the [grass] clippings on the lawn,” he said. But Mr. Mahoney countered that, saying that in his experience “people don’t want to track grass into their homes and their pools.”

Although Mr. Mahoney said that he and the landscapers association would wait to see what legislation the village crafted before deciding what their next move would be, Mr. Voges was far less circumspect. “Would we go to litigation? Yes. Do we have attorneys? Yes.” But, he added, “we can work out an amicable agreement, that’s the best thing for everybody.”