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Residents called on City officials to move forward on a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers in a community meeting Aug. 27 that also included a give-and-take with landscapers who would be most affected by the move.
About 20 residents attended the meeting at the Robert Crown Community Center, 1801 Main St. City officials were scheduled to hold a second meeting, exclusively with landscapers the following day, Aug. 28.
Evanston City Council members had called last June for the sessions to get public input from community members on changes to the City’s ordinance regulating the use of leaf blowers, said Tasheik Kerr, a management analyst, moderating the meeting for the City.
The changes are in line with goals set out in the City’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan (CARP), which calls for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
Residents had previously voiced strong opposition to continued use of gas-powered leaf blowers, citing noise pollution, environmental health and the effect on wildlife habitats among their concerns.
The use of the machines produces “staggering levels of pollution,” maintained Clark Elliott, the first speaker at the Aug. 27 meeting. “So please imagine every man woman and child – that’s 75,000 people [approximating Evanston’s population] – driving a 2016 Camry for five miles around the City and that will equal exactly one quarter the amount of pollution produced by our 80 landscaping companies,” he said.
“The numbers from Edmunds [Consumer reports], from the California State Air Quality Control, from the EPA,” he continued, “all say that these are staggeringly hideously polluting devices, and you won’t believe the numbers, unless you actually read them.”
Another speaker, Emmet Engels-Duggan, said his group, the Sunrise Movement, is focused on the environment and environmental justice.
He said the group’s primary concern has to do with exhaust fumes created by gas-powered blowers.
He said the reason the machines are “so disruptive is that they essentially lack an independent lubrication systems.”
He estimated that about a third of the fuel which circulates through the blower’s two stroke engine ends up “going on us. It is just sprayed into the environment, like literally aerosolized gasoline,” he maintained. “That aerosol contains a lot of harmful chemicals, including carbon monoxide, of course, but also things like nitrous oxides and hydrocarbons, which add more pollution to the atmosphere, [and] to the ozone layer.”
Another speaker, Kyle Campbell, presented photographs, highlighting leaf blowers’ dispersal of the dust and debris.
“But as we can see here, the plume of dust is about 10 feet tall,” he said, holding up a computer screen with the picture. “There’s a six-foot fence in this photo, and the plume of dust greatly exceeds the six foot fence.”
He also spoke of driving by an Evanston gas station and spotting a man using a leaf blower to clear debris from the parking lot.
“So just stop and think,” he said to the audience, “about all that dried aerosolized gasoline that’s just being blown into the air just for the next unsuspecting person to drive and breathe in.”
Electric leaf blowers ‘just not as good’
But some others at the meeting, involved in large-scale maintenance, spoke of the impracticality of relying on the electric-powered blowers favored by some environmentalists for big jobs.
Matt Rooney, a trustee on the board of the Canal Shores Golf Course, said gas powered blowers are “absolutely necessary” in the maintenance of the public course, which runs through Evanston and Wilmette.
In emergencies, course maintenance people have to move quickly to remove the debris left from fallen trees. In the fall, the course gets covered with leaves, he said.
“It’s 57 acres [on the Evanston side], and we have to blow all that stuff to the side every day,” he said.
He asked the City to follow the example of Wilmette and grant the golf course an exemption if a ban on gas blowers is added.
Another speaker, a Sixth Ward resident, maintained that despite the evidence presented, “any landscape contractor will tell you that electric leaf blowers just simply aren’t as good. And I’m sure the golf course agrees,” he said. “They just simply don’t work in a commercial setting.”
Ray Friedman, a frequent speaker at Evanston City Council meetings, called gas-powered leaf blowers “a teeny, teeny part of the problem.”
A bigger problem, he maintained, are “the cars, trucks, buses and factories that are blowing smoke out of the chimneys.
“What about gas-powered tree trimmers? What about lawn-edgers? Okay, what about chainsaws? What about snow blowers? They all have similar two stroke engines. So what happens when we cut out all the snow blowers?” he asked.
Rakes and brooms
Leslie Shad, the founder of Natural Habitat Evanston and a member of the Citizens Greener Evanston board, said there are other issues which deserve attention too, including encouraging native landscaping, thus reducing the need for lawn care.
“There were times when we had rakes and brooms,” she said. “And a lot of us have small yards.”
If people need additional help, Shad said, she had spoken to five or six small yard companies willing to provide assistance.
She said there is a bigger issue at play. “Insects at the bottom of the food chain are tanking,” amounting to an 80% loss “of lots of insects, including monarchs, bumblebees,” she said.
“And basically their habitat is in leaves. And that’s why we’re trying to encourage the leaves to stay, and that applies whether you’re using electric or gas.”
Ben Klitzkie, maintenance manager of Nature’s Perspective Landscaping, one of the landscapers at the meeting, spoke of that firm’s commitment to work with environmentalists to achieve a solution on the issue.
Right now, people are looking for the best price on big landscape projects, fueling use of the generally more powerful gas powered devices, he said.
He noted that the City itself is seeking to retain exclusion from ban of the machines in the proposed ordinance.
“There’s a reason that they carved up the exemption for themselves,” Klitzkie said, “because they realize the cost, they realize the efficiency, they realize the value of [the] leaf blowers.”
Nevertheless, he said, there are ways the various parties can work together to bridge the gap that currently exists on the issue.
Klitzkie said he contacted Citizens’ Greener Evanston in June, proposing that a green alliance be established.
He proposed that Northwestern University, the City’s other major property owner, be included with the entities pooling resources. Otherwise, the different parties might be competing for the less-disruptive and hard-to-get electric-powered blowers coming on the market. Nature’s Perspective had its eye on some Husqvarna blowers in that category.
“They’re beautiful machines, cost about fifteen hundred bucks,” Klitzkie said, and then Northwestern came in “and snagged all the ones that were in the North Shore.”
Afterward, “it was impossible to get these machines,” he said.
Klitzkie acknowledged that the company may not always see eye to eye with environmentalists on the issue “because we’re looking at it from not just an environmental or residential space, but also from a business space.”
“But I’m sure there are ways and areas where we can partner and come up with things that could bridge this gap,” he said.
Shad, with Citizens’ Greener Evanston, immediately responded to the offer. “I’m happy to talk to you about that,” she said.