Passing a new leaf blower law, which went into effect last year, may have been easier than enforcing it.
Rye Police received 60 leaf blower complaints in 2023, with just three of those leading to summonses (for nine firms or individuals). The largest number of reported violators were “gone on arrival.”
With the new law, the noisiest and most polluting blowers, the gas-powered ones, were restricted to the two major “cleanup seasons” — March 1 to April 30 and October 1 to December 15. Violations, including the use of multiple blowers, could lead to fines of $250 for a first offense and up to $1,500 for a third, with landscape firms, landscapers, and the homeowners who hire them all liable.
The law, which took effect January 1, included strong language: “Gas-powered leaf blowers also create pollution and contribute to global warming through the release of carbon emissions. Accordingly, it is the intent and purpose of this chapter to place limits on the use of gas-powered leaf blowers, while promoting the use of quieter electric-powered leaf blowers, with the ultimate objective of eliminating the use of gas-powered leaf blowers at the time when a more suitable and quieter technology becomes available.”
Public Safety Commissioner Michael Kopy explained the department’s enforcement limitations. By state law, he noted, “the responding officer must see the actual operation of the leaf blowers.” Arriving on the site and finding three warm blowers is not good enough. A video or photograph sent by a citizen does not count. It’s akin to a state trooper having to see a speeding car on the New York Thruway to justify pulling a driver over.
The odds favor those who, perhaps pressured by the need to serve as many households as possible as quickly as possible, choose to take their chances and violate the new law. For some, a potential fine may be little more than a cost of doing business, especially when they may have major contracts from owners of large homes and yards.
Kopy explained that responding quickly enough to the site of a complaint is no easy task for officers who may have to get from Greenhaven to Green Street in just minutes to enforce what is, after all, only a misdemeanor.
He does, however, have some new enforcement ideas, including starting March 1, dispatching an officer to drive around Rye and listen and look for violators. Of course, the officer could also be diverted to higher-priority calls.
In the longer run, Rye residents, including the increased number who work from home, may have to look to quieter new leaf blower technology or to a changed attitude toward letting leaves simply get mowed into one’s lawn as compost. But even electric blowers may not solve the problem. The law does not speak to gas-powered generators, like those that run during power outages, being used to keep electric blowers charged and ready.
Ultimately, as with any law, those concerned about leaf blowers may have to rely on self-enforcement: landscapers who choose to comply with the law. It’s possible that’s already happening. The 60 complaints last year were a decline from 153 in 2022. (Although perhaps residents have simply given up!) If the complaints and enforcement challenge persist, there remains the prospect of a law recently voted in by another leafy New York City suburb, Montclair, New Jersey, which has adopted an outright ban.
Meeting by meeting, the Council tweaked the proposed new law, Chapter 122 “Leaf Blower Regulations.” The matter came to a head at the November 30 City Council meeting. Councilmember Bill Henderson, who has spearheaded the process, summed it up best: “This took longer than the Magna Carta.”
The new law includes the following:
• Electric leaf blowers may be used year-round; gas leaf blowers are allowed October 1 to December 15 and March 1 to April 30 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.
• Use of all motorized equipment is prohibited on 13 holidays.
• After significant storms, DPW may permit expanded use of gas leaf blowers for a period not to exceed 14 days.
• The party operating the banned leaf blower, the party employing the operator, and the owner or resident of the property will be subject to a fine of $250 for the first offense, $350 for the second, and up to $1,500 for the third.
• Landscapers must be licensed by Westchester County.