Marblehead Town Meeting beefs up leaf blower ban

On its second night, Marblehead Town Meeting strengthened regulations governing the summertime ban on the use of gas-powered leaf blowers, adding enforcement provisions and penalties for noncompliance. 

Meanwhile, attendees defeated resident Todd Norman’s citizen petition, Article 47, that attempted to erase the leaf blower ban that Town Meeting adopted in 2022.  

Jeanie Stahl addresses Town Meeting about her leaf blower ban on May 2. CURRENT PHOTOS / LEIGH BLANDER

Article 48, sponsored by Jeanie Stahl and Dr. Kathy Breslin, passed 246 to 165. 

“Other towns in Massachusetts have limitations on decibel level. One community has a  maximum fine of $2,000,” Stahl told Town Meeting. “Another has limitations on decibel level.”

Stahl clarified that  the Police Department or the Public Health Department must witness violations in order to issue a written warning or fine. 

Property owners — not landscapers — will be penalized for infractions. Penalties will progress with each violation, and they would be as follows:

— First offense, written warning

— Second offense, $100 fine

— Third and subsequent offenses, $200 fine.

According to an analysis of gas-powered leaf blower bans, those penalties fall in line with others across the Bay State. Between 2012 and today, Brookline, Winchester, Lexington, Cambridge, Lincoln, Newton and Arlington have such bans.

A Massachusetts Medical Society report notes gasoline leaf blowers produce between 95 and 110 decibels. Prolonged exposure to noise at or above 85 decibels can result in permanent hearing loss, according to the National Institute of Health. The agency reports the extent of damage to your hearing caused by noise depends on three factors:

— Decibel level: How loud the sound is.

— Distance: How close you are to the source of the sound.

 — Time: The length of time you are exposed to the sound.

Breslin expressed relief for a quieter summer.

“I’m so happy looking forward to a quiet summer,” Breslin told the Current on the Town Meeting floor. “I won’t have to leave my house every Thursday for three hours.”

Opponents’ arguments failed to gain steam. Norman said taking leaf blowers away will increase costs for property owners. 

Town Meeting attendees stand in a single file behind a microphone on May 2, waiting their turn to speak on an article seeking to do away with a seasonal leaf blower ban. CURRENT PHOTOS / LEIGH BLANDER

“I’ve heard some people say [yardwork by landscapers] does not need to look perfect,” said Todd Noman. “I think you would disagree if you ever pay for the service.” 

Rose Ann Wheeler McCarthy framed the enforcement penalties as a step closer to “a police state.” She also believes the fines will impose a financial burden on struggling seniors on fixed incomes.

Proponents argued landscapers can still use electric leaf blowers, but Norman claimed that electric leaf blowers’ environmental impact isn’t as green as perceived, citing the carbon footprint from lithium mining used for batteries. 

And he added that raking and sweeping are not cost-effective alternatives.

“The time it takes to sweep up by hand will cost the customer more,” he said. “It’s all about getting the job done quicker.” 

The victory Tuesday was hard earned, Stahl said. 

“I can’t even count the hours,” Stahl said. “Hours and hours and hours of writing and researching and making presentations to help educate different parts of the town.”

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