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Residents and landscapers are urged not to use leaf blowers. COURTESY WIKICOMMONS

By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

Montclair’s Township Council is expected Tuesday to vote on an ordinance that would restrict gas leaf blower usage to two months in the spring and two months in the fall, and limit hours of use.

Amendments to the current law were introduced at the Jan. 5 council meeting, but were met with opposition by some who said the new rules didn’t go far enough, and others who felt it lacked a mechanism for enforcement.

In the latest version, it requires landscaping companies to provide their employees using gas leaf blowers with appropriate equipment to protect employees’ health, including hearing and eye protection. It says the companies must require employees to use the equipment.

The former proposed ordinance banned them throughout March.

If Tuesday’s first reading of the ordinance is approved, that would set up a public hearing and a final vote for as soon as Feb. 16.

The version of the ordinance discussed Jan. 5 was tabled, with Mayor Sean Spiller, Councilmen David Cummings, Bob Russo and Bill Hurlock approving the tabling and Councilwomen Lori Price Abrams and Robin Schlager and Councilman Peter Yacobellis voting no.

The battle over leaf blower noise and the dust leaf blowers create has been long-going in Montclair. But residents ramped up their opposition of gas blowers with the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and residents working and learning from home all day. In September 2020, 30 residents banned together to create Quiet Montclair, a group hoping to raise awareness about the potentially harmful effects of gas-powered leaf blowers and to champion the use of alternatives, such as electric leaf blowers, to get the job done. 

Current code allows the use of leaf blowers powered by internal combustion engines March 1 through June 30 and Oct. 1 through Dec. 15 only. Leaf blowers are allowed weekdays 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for landscapers and up to 8 p.m. for homeowners, Saturdays 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. for landscapers and up to 8 p.m. for homeowners, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. No violation fines are set in the current noise ordinance.

Rather than implementing a ban altogether, a committee consisting of Spiller, Yacobellis and Schlager sought to ease in more restrictions by changing the start times to an hour later to 9 a.m. on weekdays and to 10 a.m. on Saturdays and limiting the months of use. The amendments presented in Jan. 5 would have reduced usage by six hours a week, banned them throughout March, and set fines for violations for the first time.

The newest version of the ordinance would limit usage of leaf blowers powered by internal combustion engines to March 15 through May 15, and Oct. 15 through Dec. 15.

Hours of operation would also be reduced by six hours a week. 

Where the current law does not list penalties for noncompliance, the proposed law also sets up fines of $100 to $2,000.

The existing law stipulates that gas leaf blowers must have properly functioning mufflers.

Opponents of expanding regulations have said that residents are more aware of leaf blower usage since they are now home during the day, when landscapers head to Montclair to clean up residents’ lawns and are concerned that by limiting hours and days of usage, small businesses and their employees would suffer. 

Other residents have said leaf blowers go beyond the annoyance of residences and pointed to the health of the employees who use the gas leaf blowers day after day.

The New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association and nine landscape companies in 2017 sued Maplewood, after the town prohibited landscape companies from using gas-powered blowers during the summer months. The suit, which is still in the courts, alleges the ban discriminates against businesses because it does not apply to private residents and town’s DPW crews.

Yacobellis said Montclair should wait and see how the suit turns out before taking on a full-out ban.