Dust hasn’t yet settled on leaf blower debate | AspenTimes.com

Dust hasn’t yet settled on leaf blower debate

Janet Urquhart

Limited hours of operation and cutting back the throttle on gas-powered leaf blowers were offered up as compromises Monday to Aspen’s outright ban on the machines.Representatives of several local lawn-care companies met with members of the city’s Environmental Health Department to offer suggestions that might appease opponents of the blowers.”We’ve never gotten a complaint about a lawn mower, we’ve never gotten a complaint about a weed whacker. We and the City Council have gotten innumerable complaints about gas leaf blowers,” said Lee Cassin, environmental health director.Noise is the big issue, but fugitive dust is another.The city banned the gas-powered versions in 2003 and announced this summer that it would be enforcing the rule, raising a hue and cry from the law-maintenance industry.”I think everybody in this room is willing to make some kind of compromise,” said Corey McLernon, owner of Ajax Lawn Care.Chris Tyler, owner of Aspen Lawn and Holiday Lights, suggested a limit on the hours during the day when the devices can be used, or giving lawn-care companies until next summer to acquire acceptable blowers.”By next season, we’d be fine,” he said.Many gas-powered blowers can be throttled down so they meet the city’s residential noise limit of 55 decibels during the day, added Glenn Loper of Groundskeepers of Aspen.”We don’t need full-throttle to do what we’re doing,” he said.Electric blowers are allowed under the city’s ordinance, but groundskeepers complained that they often can’t find an outlet, and that battery-powered ones lose their charge too quickly. Sweeping driveways and walks of grass clippings is too time-consuming and costly to the customer, they said.”Even easier than the blower is to use water. I don’t think the city wants us doing that,” Tyler said.In fact, electric blowers may be more objectionable than low-noise gas-powered models, added Tim McTavish, representing Stihl, a manufacturer of leaf blowers.To prove his point, he started up examples of both in the alley behind City Hall after officials assured him he wouldn’t be issued a citation. The electric blower, which McTavish said runs at 64 decibels, drowned out the 65-decibel gas-powered blower, several witnesses to the demonstration agreed. The reason, McTavish said, is the higher pitch on the electric model. It produced a whine.”The reality is the industry is taking care of this on its own,” he said.Gas-powered blowers are far quieter than they were when Aspen first enacted its noise ordinance in 1981 and they’re even quieter than they were in 2003, when the city updated its noise regulations, according to McTavish.With the city’s recent promise to crack down on gas-powered blowers, at least two lawn-care providers said they have declined to clean off walks and driveways.”We told clients, you’re either going to pay our fines for using a gas-powered blower to blow your property or we’re not going to do it,” Loper said.Environmental Health officials plan to take the groundskeepers’ suggestions to the City Council for further debate.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com