For the second time this year, organizations from across the suburbs virtually gathered to talk a common nuisance: gas-powered leaf blowers.
According to Beth Drucker, president of Go Green Wilmette, more and more towns are considering limitations to the use of the tool because of “environmental and health issue(s), and while some communities are working individually, she helped cultivate a collaborative effort to figure out how to best handle the issue.
That question was on the minds of participants in a virtual meeting hosted on Tuesday, Dec. 7, by Go Green Wilmette and Go Green Winnetka, local nonprofits that are dedicated to raising environmental awareness and developing sustainable communities.
In her greeting at the meeting, Drucker said the collaboration of communities will help to create common ground on what could and should be done in regard to leaf-blower restrictions and the enforcement of those restrictions.
“Working together on this issue across our boundaries will be the best way to ensure success in our towns and across our region,” she said, adding that while representatives from six communities spoke there were individuals from more than 26 communities present at the meeting.
The representatives, many of whom also met in April, discussed the efforts their communities have put forth to restrict gas-powered leaf blowers.
Many of those who spoke said that they’ve heard an increased amount of feedback from residents about leaf blowers, especially with the increase in the amount of people working from home.
Wilmette Village Manager Mike Braiman said that in 2020 he received more complaints about noise pollution and nuisances involving leaf blowers than anything else.
Like many villages, Wilmette has difficulty enforcing its leaf blower ordinance, which has been in place since 2006.
To solve that problem, Braiman said the village hired a part-time employee whose job was to enforce the ordinance from May through September.
“It was really effective,” he said. “We received outstanding feedback from the community in that there was a noticeable difference in terms of the noise pollution experienced throughout Wilmette.”
Wilmette plans on continuing enforcement of that ordinance in the future, Braiman said.
Additionally, when a landscaping company was cited for violating the ordinance, Braiman said, the Village of Wilmette gave them an opportunity to avoid a fine by showing progress.
“If somebody received a citation and if they were able to show compliance by purchasing a battery — or electric-powered leaf blower before their court date — we waived the fine, and that ended up being very effective,” Braiman said.
In Winnetka, Police Chief Marc Hornstein said his department not only stepped up their enforcement of the village’s the existing ordinance, but his officers also began offering recognition opportunities for landscapers who abide by the ordinance.
He described the creation of a “voluntary compliance pledge,” wherein 35 landscaping companies signed the pledge to utilize more environmentally friendly methods of accomplishing their work.
“And as such, the village of Winnetka would recognize each of these companies, posting their name on the village website saying these are the companies that have signed on to the pledge,” Hornstein said.
Some of the landscapers, however, did end up violating the pledge they signed, and while Hornstein said nothing was done this year, the village is developing plans for next year that would remove the names of those who did not live up to their pledge.
Although nothing has been set in stone yet, Hornstein suggested that a warning would be given and that after that point any violation would result in the recognition being removed.
Hall Healy, who sits on Glencoe’s Sustainability Task Force, said the group’s goal is to gradually phase out gas-powered leaf blowers by the spring of 2024.
He also touted the importance of education when it comes to explaining why they want to ban the leaf blowers.
“We think education is a key component of this for our landscapers, as well as residents, to understand why we’re doing this,” he said. “So we get compliance and understanding along the way.”
Healy also said the task force is looking into teaming with national organizations to secure funding to replace gas-powered leaf blowers with ones that are more energy efficient.
Scott Grams, executive director of the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association, warned against outright bans. Grams, who said his organization represents more than 5,000 landscaping businesses across the state, urged groups and villages to work with landscaping companies, because battery-powered and electric options are very expensive and aren’t as efficient.
“Once a tool becomes more effective and efficient, then the gas-powered blowers will be outmoded,” he said. “This will happen sooner than you think, but manufacturers are not there yet.”
He encouraged local governments to give time for locally owned landscaping companies time to upgrade their equipment, and landscapers need to have a seat at the table when determining ordinances.
“We feel that no community should push forward with an ordinance without talking to landscape field workers or foremen who understand their experiences of actually utilizing this equipment,” he said. “Their voices must be heard and we are happy to connect any responsible decision-makers with this vital perspective.”
Other speakers included Ghida Neukirch, Highland Park village manager, who said a working group of village managers and staffers from area towns is being formed to discuss future leaf-blower plans.
In addition to Highland Park, Wilmette, Glencoe, Deerfield and Northbrook, other area municipalities that have expressed interest in the group include Glenview, Kenilworth, Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Lincolnshire and Winnetka.
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Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.