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Originally published November 21, 2013 at 8:23 PM | Page modified November 21, 2013 at 11:54 PM

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Noisy leaf-blower complaints pile up in Seattle

Seattle City Council ponders regulating leaf blowers in response to noise complaints.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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The Seattle City Council is known to consider all issues big and small.

Now on the table is regulating leaf blowers, the noisy things that are a steady source of complaints, especially at this time of year — a time of gently falling leaves. Lots of leaves. Lots and lots of them.

Try a ballpark estimate of 60,000,000,000 leaves on deciduous trees in Seattle that’ll either rot or have to be picked up.

“I can’t even wrap my head around that figure,” says Nolan Rundquist, the city’s arborist.

That would be his estimate of 2 million trees with leaves in Seattle, times 30,000 leaves per tree as estimated by a physics professor in Wired magazine.

Just about every yard-maintenance company uses leaf blowers, with Seattle Parks and Recreation using 125 of them.

Says Joelle Hammerstad, spokeswoman for the agency, about watching a crew of seven workers with leaf blowers at Denny Park: “They can get 4 acres done in a couple of hours. It’s highly efficient.”

And what about if in environmentally conscious Seattle there was an ordinance returning us to rakes?

“Try 1,000 people,” says Hammerstad.

But the agency gets a steady drip of complaints about the leaf blowers, like this email:

“I wait for the bus every morning at Westlake Park and it is absolutely nauseating the smell that comes out of those leaf blowers. ... Most often times the person using the blower blows dirt and debris on those of us waiting for the bus and disregard and obviously do not care. I think it is ridiculous. ... ”

The Parks Department emails back a polite response about leaf blowers, “We’re very sorry for the pollution and the nuisance ... without them we could not maintain the more than 6,000 acres of park land.”

As is common with the City Council, this is an issue that will take its time meandering through to some kind of conclusion.

On Monday, in a request led by Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, leaf blowers were placed on something called a “Statement of Legislative Intent.

All that does is have the Department of Planning and Development recommend something about regulating the noise and pollution they cause.

It certainly doesn’t have to hurry. The agency has until September of next year for a recommendation.

Rasmussen says his constituents complain about the machines.

“You hear them from six blocks away. It’s an ongoing annoyance of city life,” he says.

Other cities, ranging from Vancouver, B.C., to Cambridge, Mass., have restrictions on the use of leaf blowers.

Rasmussen doesn’t want to ban them, but grandfather the existing, older and noisier models, and create a noise ordinance moving forward.

At Akina Designs, a landscape business in West Seattle, owner Wendy Lomme says she has two gas-powered leaf blowers she bought a couple of years ago for $700 to $800 each.

She says that in 15 minutes they clean up leaves and debris that’d take 1 to 1½ hours manually.

“That’s added time and money,” she says.

Lomme says about Rasmussen’s proposal: “I at least appreciate they mention incentives and some help to get better equipment.”

Sixty billion leaves will be waiting.

Staff researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com Twitter @ErikLacitis



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