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St. Pete mulls regulating leaf blowers

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Published:   |   Updated: June 30, 2013 at 09:51 AM

ST. PETERSBURG - For many homeowners, leaf-blowers are as much as part of the weekend routine as outdoor grilling.

The everyday garden appliance, though, has stirred protests from environmentalists and others who describe the handheld blowers as an unnecessary nuisance that causes excessive noise and air pollution.

Led by cities in California, dozens of communities nationwide have either banned the devices or limited their use. Now, St. Petersburg leaders plan to join the discussion.

City Council Chairman Karl Nurse wants city staff to consider whether St. Petersburg should regulate the use of blowers.

The regulations likely would not impact most people because only a minority of residents uses noisy blowers at unreasonable hours, Nurse said. Curbing those uses could make a big difference, though.

"Because houses are close together, if you're running a leaf blower at the edge of your property, you may be six or seven feet from a neighbor's window when they are trying to sleep," he said.

The city likely would stop short of a ban but might limit when and for how long residents can use their blowers. Another option would be to limit use to between February and April, when Florida trees typically shed their leaves. Enforcement could be similar to noise complaints, with residents reporting violators to the police.

Such regulations, though, would create problems for professional lawn-care businesses, said Dave Kochis, who has run Dave's Lawn Care in St. Petersburg for about 18 years.

Workers often operate blowers early in the morning, especially in the summer, when lawns typically need weekly cutting and work days are interrupted by afternoon storms.

"We're fighting the temperature; we're fighting the rain," he said. "If you don't' get the yard cut, the customer is unhappy, and they'll get someone else to do their yard."

Leaf blowers can send leaves and grass clippings into the sewers, blocking them; clearing them costs the city money.

That problem is because many lawn-cutting services operate without a certification supplied by Pinellas County, Kochis said. Business owners pay $15 for the certification, which includes a three-hour training course that details the importance of keeping leaves and grass clippings out of sewers.

About 1,500 lawn-care and maintenance companies have received the certification, said Anamarie Rivera, Pinellas County senior environmental specialist. The training was mandated by a 2010 county ordinance that also limited what types of fertilizers can be used and when they can be applied.

The ordinance, intended to combat high levels of nutrients and fertilizers that can fuel algae blooms in rivers and lakes, was adopted by all 24 municipalities in Pinellas County.

"Grass clippings carry a tremendous amount of nutrients in them," said Rivera.

Cities that have banned gas-powered leaf blowers include Palo Alto, Calif., and Aspen, Colo. The bans were to address concerns about noise levels, gas emissions from blowers and the disturbance of dust and other particles.

Some gas blowers generate about 75 decibels of noise. City of Portland, Oreg;, leaders enacted an ordinance that prohibits blowers louder than 65 decibels except during fall, when the limit rises to 70 decibels.

Palm Beach County was one of a handful of Florida counties to discuss the issue, but commissioners there decided against regulations.

Local activist Judy Ellis, a member of Noise Free Florida, has been pushing for months for restrictions on blowers, which she describes as "an invention from hell."

"We use them to blow the dirt from one person's yard to another," she said. "It's putting stuff into the air that Mother Nature intended to leave on the ground, like leaves, dust, pollen, fertilizer."

codonnell@tampatrib.com

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