West Orange TC discusses pros and cons of banning gas-powered leaf blowers

The West Orange Township Council discusses the noise ordinance and the possibility of banning gas-powered leaf blowers at its Nov. 22 meeting.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Township Council discussed the town’s noise ordinance and the possibility of banning gas-powered leaf blowers at its meeting on Nov. 23, prompted by questions from residents during the public comment portion of the meeting. Other towns in Essex County, including Maplewood and Montclair, have enacted bans on the landscaping equipment in favor of electric leaf blowers to cut down on the noise and pollution that using gasoline causes, but West Orange has not yet done the same.

“I’m sure you’re all hearing and seeing this plague of noxious noise and pollution at this beautiful time of year,” resident Sally Malanga said at the meeting. “I’m seeing workers wasting so much time blowing dust and leaves in circles, and the pollution they create in an hour is equal to 300 hours of a car. This has to stop. We have until 2030 to cut emissions in half in order to save us from the kind of catastrophic flooding that we have already begun to experience here in West Orange.”

Malanga asked the council what its plan is to curb noise and emissions if they are not prepared to ban the gas-powered leaf blowers.

“I’m urging a workshop to write the climate change ordinances that will bring us into the 21st century for flood control,” she said. “It’s simple solutions like banning the gas-powered blowers, acquiring the Mount Pleasant forest, regular street tree replacement and extra planting, rain gardens, and green roofs. It’s really a necessity now, and we have got to take immediate action to preserve ourselves.”

Council President Cindy Matute-Brown said she works from home and has been hearing the noise from the leaf blowers. She would be supportive of a discussion about banning them, as Maplewood has seen some success from purchasing electric leaf blowers. Assistant township attorney Ken Kayser said leaf blowers were discussed at a West Orange Environmental Commission meeting a few months ago.

“I attended the environmental commission meeting some months ago when there was a discussion about leaf blowers and whether electric or gas are noisier, and there’s actually a genuine dispute about that,” he said. “More modern equipment that’s operated by gas is apparently in some instances less noisy than electric. So it’s not such a simple mission.”

Councilwoman Susan McCartney, who is the council’s liaison to the environmental commission, said the president of a local landscapers association has spoken at commission meetings before. Newer equipment follows standards that have cut back on gas emissions, and the noise ratings on the gas-powered leaf blowers have been lowered.

“Yes, they could be loud, but they are more efficient as far as getting the job done,” McCartney said at the meeting about the gas-powered blowers. “If you’re using the electric leaf blowers, it takes that much longer and there’s much more noise associated with them.”

The commission did discuss an ordinance that would curtail the operating hours during which landscapers are permitted to use the leaf blowers to cut back on the noise and gas, but McCartney said most landscapers they spoke with said they don’t work during the proposed off-hours or the summer season anyway. 

Matute-Brown agreed. “Implementing an ordinance banning leaf blowers in the summertime is the same as doing nothing,” she said.

Kevin Malanga, Sally Malanga’s husband, spoke about the noise, saying that the current noise ordinance is too subjective and difficult to enforce. He suggested the town follow the state Department of Environmental Protection’s criteria.

“It would require the purchase of a noise-measuring device by the township, which is less than $1,000, and it requires modest training on the part of township officials,” Kevin Malanga said at the meeting. “I encourage you to look at this ordinance and update it. It’s a good opportunity to address this quality-of-life issue that’s very important to the township.”

In response, Kayser said the town is too big and has too much simultaneous noise to effectively monitor it with a measuring device.

“Leaf blowers are going on all over the place all the time,” he said. “You’d need a whole lot of machines and a whole lot of personnel all at the same time to cover the town. We’ve kept this type of ordinance because it has some value. It’s true that it’s got a subjective standard, but it means that the police department has a reason to go if there’s a noise complaint and talk to the people about it. Very often that stops the problem, which of course is helpful. What you want is the result.”