City DopeNews

ACC Considers Banning Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers

I'm a leaf blower, baby, so why don't you kill me? Credit: screencap via YouTube

There is one issue that can unite liberal Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Russell Edwards and local conservative talk-show host Tim Bryant: their hatred of leaf blowers.

A group of commissioners is considering banning gas-powered leaf blowers for the noise they make and their environmental impact. It’s been one of Edwards’ long-standing goals, though he no longer serves on the Legislative Review Committee. Mayor Kelly Girtz assigned it to the LRC because complaints rose while people were working from home during the pandemic, LRC chair Allison Wright said at a Dec. 2 committee meeting.

The county noise ordinance already prohibits using leaf blowers, lawn mowers and chainsaws between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. in residential areas, or between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. in agricultural areas that are near homes. Doug Hansford, director of the Building Permits and Inspections Department, said he wasn’t sure whether landscaping companies fall under a commercial exemption in the ordinance. However, another clause in the noise ordinance regulates construction noise late at night and early in the morning. In addition, “smoke or fumes in sufficient amounts to cause odor or annoyance” are prohibited by the ordinance.

In any case, complaints are rare, said Hansford, whose department includes code enforcement. “We’ve only had one official complaint about a leaf blower in the past few years on this ordinance,” he said. “It was in the Five Points area, and we got compliance on it.”

While commissioners had questions about the environmental impact and the impact on local businesses, they didn’t seem enthusiastic about spending too much time on leaf blowers. “I can easily list off 473 things that I’d rather be talking about and rather be tasking staff with than this,” Commissioner Jesse Houle said, citing issues like tenant’s rights and affordable housing. 

An ordinance banning gas-powered leaf blowers would be very difficult to enforce, ACC assistant manager Niki Jones said. He suggested a better path might be to look at a policy banning their use by the ACC government. A total ban could also open up ACC to a lawsuit, according to assistant county attorney Lisa Pappas. It would be easier to extend the existing restrictions on hours to the downtown area, which isn’t zoned residential but has seen a huge population growth since the ordinance was written, Pappas and Jones said. That’s where most complaints have come from. The committee will take up the issue again next month.