The use of gas-powered leaf blowers in Wilmette will soon be further prohibited as village trustees approved plans during their Tuesday, April 25 meeting to bolster the town’s operation restrictions.
Trustees unanimously supported an ordinance that limits the use of gas-powered leaf blowers to a four-week period during spring (April 1-30) and an eight-week period in fall (Oct. 1-Nov. 30).
The approved measure doubles the number of weeks (from 20 to 40) that use is prohibited in Wilmette, village officials said. The new restrictions will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, according to village records.
As previously reported by The Record, the board’s approval follows takeaways detailed by the Regional Leaf Blower Working Group in December 2022 after more than a year’s worth of analysis and research.
Village Manager Michael Braiman — who served as one of the working group’s three co-leads — walked trustees through a presentation during the April 25 meeting highlighting staff’s policy recommendation, which was based on the research and findings from the working group.
Braiman told the board that a year-round ban on gas-powered leaf blowers is “just not viable at this time in our area for a number of reasons,” citing technology limitations, the robust mature tree canopy on the North Shore and the cost for landscaping companies to transition to battery-powered alternatives.
“When I went into this process, I was hopeful we’d reach the conclusion that it would be viable to ban gas-powered leaf blowers year-round,” Braiman said. “Not only do I get most of the complaints in our community, but I hear it myself when I’m walking through our neighborhoods or at my home where I live.”
Braiman later added that the village will devote extensive efforts toward educating community members on how to reduce leaf-blower usage and the positive effects of doing so.
Trustees spent the majority of their deliberations discussing a staff recommendation to remove a clause the existing 30-minute limitation on usage of gas-powered leaf blowers in any three-hour period on smaller lots. Officials said the regulation has never been enforced in its 30-plus years.
Trustees voted against that recommendation, opting to include an amendment in the approved ordinance that will keep the 30-minute provision in effect.
Board members also voted to include amendments ensuring that the village’s Environmental and Energy Commission will review the impact of the ordinance in the near future and that the landscaping done at Village Hall will not be an exemption to the ordinance.
Before trustees approved the ordinance, nine residents addressed the board with seven of them urging the Village to consider a complete ban on the use of gas-powered leaf blowers.
“We cannot leave here tonight without the word ban, whether now or in 2025,” resident Annie Finnegan said. “We need a ban on the table, a target date for one. Anything less, after all the years of residents wanting a leaf-blower ban, is a move backwards.”
Louise Clark said “the abuse of gas-powered leaf-blowers in Wilmette is enormous,” later adding that she urges a complete ban: “There is no longer any need for a delay,” she said.
Throughout their discussions, trustees showed support for an incremental approach recommended by staff, while expressing the desire to revisit a full ban in 2024.
“There is no one up here that favors gas-powered leaf blowers,” Trustee Peter Barrow said. “Let’s be entirely clear about that. Evanston has taken the step of banning them completely. I don’t believe that we are to be doing that at this time. There are times of year that because of the numbers of leaves that we have — big and heavy and wet — that at least at this time, the power of the gas-powered leaf blowers are probably necessary.
“Perhaps Evanston will prove that wrong. We will benefit from their experience and I have no doubt that this board will revisit this issue in a year.”
Village President Senta Plunkett expressed gratitude toward the working group for its leadership efforts while adding that it’s going to take action from everyone in the community to “change hearts and minds.”
“I think the community is ready to move in incremental steps and I’m very happy that we are saying that we are moving toward a full ban,” she said. “ … I’m very excited about taking this step forward tonight and I’m even more excited that we have definite steps that we are going to take in the future.”
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Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.