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Arlington votes on leaf blower ban

Gas-powered leaf blowers are popular with landscapers, but face restrictions in a number of area communities.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/FILE 2007

Gas-powered leaf blowers are popular with landscapers, but face restrictions in a number of area communities.

Opponents of a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers in Arlington have six hours Thursday to overturn the new bylaw.

Polls will be open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday for the rare special election in which voters will be asked whether to overturn the measure, which would prohibit the use of gas-powered leaf blowers on private land between May 15 and Oct. 15.

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Holding the election is expected to cost the town about $30,000.

Annual Town Meeting voters approved the restriction, 95-85,  in May, but opponents, including local landscapers, quickly collected enough signatures to call the special election to reconsider the decision.

Under state law, however, at least 20 percent  of Arlington’s registered voters would have to cast a ballot against the ban in order to overturn the Town Meeting’s decision, and they would have to be in the majority. The last local election had a turnout of about 26 percent, but the polls were open for 12 hours and some of the races were hotly contested.

Getting the required number of voters to the polls in midsummer, when many people are away on vacation, could be difficult, although organizers of the campaign say they have been encouraged by the amount of opposition to the leaf-blower ban.

“I do think it’s going to be a challenge, given the date,” said Joseph Cusce Jr., who owns Black Diamond Landscapes Inc. in Arlington.

Town Clerk Stephanie Lucarelli said Arlington had 28,898  registered voters going into the special election, putting the minimum turnout at 5,780 for the bylaw to have a chance of being overturned.

Cusce said opponents of the ban formed the Arlington Landscape Association, and raised about $11,000  for their campaign to overturn it.

Landscapers have advertised in local media outlets, placed hundreds of lawn signs around town, and have established a website, www.arlingtonlandscapeassociation.com,  in an effort to sway voters.

Cusce said the landscapers are opposed to banning leaf blowers because it will take them longer to do their jobs without the power tools and it could affect the quality of their work. He said if landscapers are not allowed to use leaf blowers, their costs will increase and their businesses will suffer, adding, “In an economy like this, is that what the town needs?”

Town Meeting voted in favor of banning the gas-powered leaf blowers based on concerns about noise and potentially harmful debris kicked up by the devices.

Similar bans were rejected by Wellesley and Marblehead  earlier this year, but new seasonal restrictions took effect in Brookline on June 5.

Next door to Arlington, Cambridge has prohibited the use of both gas- and electricity-powered leaf blowers between Jan. 1 and March 14 and between June 16 and Sept. 14  each year since 2008.

Elizabeth Lint, executive director of the city’s License Commission, said the number of noise complaints about leaf blowers has decreased since the City Council approved the restrictions.

But Jeremy Marin, an Arlington Town Meeting member who supports the leaf blower ban, said his primary concern is harmful debris and chemicals being kicked up by the devices, rather than the noise they generate.

Marin said he is concerned about lead paint, carcinogens, pesticides, and herbicides being blown into his yard by the hurricane-force gusts generated by leaf blowers.

“I cannot throw a pile of lead dust onto my neighbor’s lawn, and I don’t expect them to be able to do that to me,” Marin said.

Although Marin said he is not aware of any organized campaign underway in support of the leaf blower ban, he and fellow Town Meeting member Adam Auster have set up a website, www.arlingtonleafblowers.blogspot.com, to get the word out about their concerns.

Longtime Selectman Kevin Greeley, who is serving as chairman this year, said he has heard a number of objections to the ban since it was approved. But Greeley said this is the first special election aimed at overturning a Town Meeting vote that he has seen in his 24 years on the board.

Greeley said he favors restrictions on leaf blowers, such as limits on the hours in which they may be used, and how long they may be used continuously. But he said he is not in favor of an outright ban, and he said he thinks the move by Town Meeting was “a little rushed.”

In addition to the challenge of drawing the required number of voters in the dead of summer, Greeley said, opponents to the ban also face the challenge of the limited polling hours designated for the special election under state law.

The annual town election this spring had a turnout of about 26 percent, but it featured heavily contested races for the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee, and the polls were open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

With only a six-hour window for the special election Thursday, Greeley said, he thinks it will be shocking if opponents to the ban are able to get out enough voters to overturn it.

“I don’t believe they are going to be able to do this,” he said.

Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com.
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