The annual leaf blower rule shifts are coming. And, on North Haven, the most-restrictive on the South Fork went into effect on Monday, but there are two glaring — blaring? — exceptions to the promise of quieter, less dusty late springs and summers. The villages of Sag Harbor and East Hampton, where houses are the most closely packed together, continue to allow gas-powered leaf blowers, year round, albeit with some restrictions.
East Hampton Town and Southampton Village and Town have similar strategies, to prohibit the fossil-fuel blowers from May 20 to Sept. 20 and in fall through midspring allow for their use only during business hours. Southampton Town goes one step further with its never-on-a-Sunday rule. But here in the so-called most beautiful village in America, as well as along the still-charming historic streets of Sag Harbor, it is still a sonic free-for-all every month of the year, each day of the week, with quiet hours imposed after business hours, on weekends, and on federal or state holidays.
Aside from the obvious annoyance of their relentless whine, gas leaf blowers are exceptionally bad for air quality. Unlike cars and trucks, lawn and garden engines for the most part are made without pollution controls. Most are small engines burning a dirty mix of gasoline and oil that disproportionately affects climate change. But the emissions have a direct and immediate effect, especially for the people who use them and should wear protective masks but rarely do. Hearing damage from the noise they make is also a real concern — if for the health concerns alone for a work force not often able to advocate for itself, more sweeping bans should be in place.
Battery-powered lawn equipment is allowed in most places that have partial bans on gas-powered equipment. However, the switch for landscaping companies can be expensive. California and Washington, D.C., try to offset the additional costs by offering grants for small businesses making the transition to less-polluting tech. In some cases, lawn care customers themselves have given or loaned money to operators who would otherwise be unable to make the switch.
Given all this, it is disappointing that East Hampton and Sag Harbor Villages are not on board with the warm-month bans. A respite from the noise for residents would be welcome, but the village boards should take leaf blowers’ harmful effects on human health and the environment a lot more seriously. These are sensible protections and should be extended. There is no compelling reason not to.