When noise is too noisy

By Richard Fahlander Correspondent
April 7, 2023

Last fall after a tough week at work, Sven Weber was looking forward to a relaxing weekend at home. Instead, for hours on end he found himself assaulted by the raucous roar of gas leaf blowers across his Concord neighborhood.

As a fan of electric power equipment and former resident of both Germany and California, where such machines are heavily regulated, Weber believes there is a better way to move leaves around. He has proposed Town Meeting Article 37, which would immediately restrict the use of handheld and backpack gas blowers to the spring and fall. By 2026 their use would be banned altogether. Electric leaf blowers could be used year-round.

Weber said towns across the country (including nearby Lexington) and the state of California have enacted bans on two-cycle gas leaf blowers. 

“Right now there are hundreds of towns running ahead of us,” said Weber. “ The train has left the station. Does Concord want to be part of the train?” 

He argues that the move to electric is in sync with town’s sustainability initiatives and that technology has advanced to the point that quieter, less polluting electric blowers are now comparable in performance to the two-cycle gas models.

It’s not entirely surprising that the initiative faces blowback from commercial landscapers and businesses and residents with large lots. At a February public hearing several said that in their experience electric does not perform as well as gas. Also, the purchase of new equipment and the added time it will take to complete the work will end up being costs passed on to the customer.

In an interview, Concord Public Works Director Alan Cathcart expressed a similar view from the municipal perspective. He said the move to all-electric machines is “an aspirational goal, but we have to deal with what happens when the rubber hits the road.” With acres of parks, miles of roadway, and several historic cemeteries, leaf and debris removal is a year-round necessity. He agrees that electric blowers can be adequate for the occasional residential user, but not on the scale required for municipal operations.

Over the past several years, Public Works has purchased a variety of electric-powered equipment including blowers, trimmers, mowers, and vehicles. Cathcart said the department is committed to sustainable practices and that crews are pleased with the performance of electric machines, but that there are situations when only gas will do the job. He said the Public Works Commission will address the warrant article at their April 12 meeting.

A similar ban on gas leaf blowers was proposed in 2018, but was ultimately withdrawn before a Town Meeting vote, when the two sides were unable to craft an acceptable compromise. Weber thinks that advances in electric technology and greater awareness of the need for action on climate change has changed the political landscape. He has been meeting with both sides of the debate in a quest to find common ground. One option may be to extend the timetable for enforcement of a ban.

There appears to be one thing that both sides agree upon – that the future is electric. At the public hearing opponents of the warrant article acknowledged that we need to figure out “how we go from gas to electric” and that “someday everyone will go green.”

“It’s going to happen sooner or later,” echoed petitioner Weber. “The intent is to ensure a smooth transition.” It will be up to Town Meeting to weigh the aspirational and the practical and decide if now is the time to tip the scale in favor of the electric option.