South Orange board tables leaf blower ordinance following blowback

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The South Orange Board of Trustees tabled an ordinance that proposed a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers in the summer at its Feb. 14 meeting after hearing criticism of the ordinance at the meeting. As proposed before tabling, the ordinance would have banned gas-powered blowers between May 1 and Sept. 30. Additionally, the ordinance would prohibit the use of all leaf blowers on Sundays and holidays observed by the village year-round, and their use would be limited to between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Monday through Friday and between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday.

“Outlawing gas blowers in the summer will force some people to maintain their properties less, reducing the appeal of our community,” South Orange resident Michael Goldberg said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “It will also force landscapers to buy new equipment, and those costs would pass on to homeowners. Not to mention, forcing homeowners and landscapers to buy new equipment while already having perfectly working equipment isn’t very environmentally friendly. We should make it easier for homeowners to maintain their properties, not harder.”

Goldberg also brought up what he found to be the most troubling aspect of the ordinance, the fact that it prohibited use of the gas-powered blowers on Sundays, also known as a “blue law.” He said allowing them to be used on Saturday but not on Sunday is discriminatory to those who observe Saturday as a day of rest.

“I find it shocking and frankly offensive that, in such a progressive community that claims to welcome everyone, we could create a blue law,” Goldberg said. “I deliberately didn’t move to Bergen County because I didn’t want to be restricted by their blue laws and I feel that implementing a blue law here could have a similar chilling effect on which demographics are drawn to the community.”

In an email to the BOT that was read during public comment, resident Amanda Burns said her house is surrounded by many different trees that drop debris all year round and, as someone who does her own landscaping, she can’t keep up by using only rakes.

“My husband and I do our own landscaping, and don’t have loads and loads of time to rake or sweep this debris all year long,” Burns wrote. “Hiring someone to landscape is already something we can’t afford, and now will be more expensive if we can’t do it ourselves. We are all concerned about the environment, but there are many bigger places to start rather than picking at the small fruit, in my opinion.”

Despite the backlash that caused the trustees to table the ordinance, there was also support for the ordinance from some residents. Linda Hadley, Kirk Barrett and Whelan Mahoney all asked that it be approved on first reading. Linda Beck, the chairperson of the South Orange Environmental Commission, also spoke during public comment in support of the ban.

“With this ordinance, South Orange is not proposing anything innovative,” Beck said. “This is the first step of many steps we need to take to catch up. If a statewide ban gets signed into law, New Jersey municipal workers will have no choice but to retire their municipal gas-powered leaf blowers and think long and hard about an alternate leaf management strategy.”

Trustee Bill Haskins, who in the past has been the chairperson of the Environmental Commission and who took the lead on writing the ordinance, said at the meeting that it’s possible similar regulations could be passed at the state level, so it would be helpful for local municipalities to be ready for it by passing something similar.

“We’re going to have this kind of regulation surrounding us; we might have this regulation in our future as a state,” he said. “It would be good for us to get ready, and the reason we have to get ready is because we have no choice. We’re in an environmental crisis, and we have to respond. This is a small thing that we can do.”

Haskins made the motion to table the ordinance and revisit it at a future meeting to ensure that as much public comment could be taken into account as possible.

“I think the right thing for us to get this right and make it really work for South Orange is to table it at this time, do some revisions and then revisit it in a couple of weeks,” he said. “We’re very close, but we just need a little bit more.”