David Lauderdale

Hilton Head leaf blower war cranking up quietly in Sea Pines neighborhood

In the name of quiet: Local landscape giant trades gas blowers for battery-powered

Employees with landscape giant The Greenery, which has contracts with several area municipalities, and with Beaufort and Jasper Counties, on April 29, 2016, showed us the difference in sound level between their new, battery-powered leaf blowers an
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Employees with landscape giant The Greenery, which has contracts with several area municipalities, and with Beaufort and Jasper Counties, on April 29, 2016, showed us the difference in sound level between their new, battery-powered leaf blowers an

For those of you who can no longer hear, a woman on Hilton Head Island is CRANKING UP THE VOLUME AGAINST NOISY LEAF BLOWERS.

Mary Carol White raised the issue at the Beach Lagoon Property Owners Association’s annual meeting last week in Sea Pines.

She said she’s been an island property owner for more than 30 years, and the scourge on an otherwise lovely place is the constant roaring of gas-powered leaf blowers. She suggested that they be banned in Sea Pines, nay, all of Hilton Head.

“People jumped on it,” she said. “There was great enthusiasm, but enthusiasm has to be turned into action.”

We’ve been talking about this for years.

In 2007, I wrote: “If Palm Beach, Florida, can make people register leaf blowers at Town Hall, why can’t we? No, we’re too busy hollering about airplanes. An airplane sounds like a Trappist monk compared to a good, shoulder-mounted leaf blower.”

In 2010, artist Amos Hummell gave me a shout, telling me what towns in California had done to shut up the leaf blowers.

Amos also sent a poem, “Ode (ious) to the Leaf Blower,” which begins:

7 a.m.: Here they come again!

Silicon clouds rolling in at 2000 rpm.

Sunrise hijackers, usurpers of serenity,

Murdering the peace, a seeming eternity.”

James Fallows

Mary Carol White, whose primary residence is in Slingerlands, New York, outside Albany, was fired up by an article in the current issue of The Atlantic magazine written by James Fallows.

It’s called “Get Off My Lawn.”

Subtitle: “How a small group of activists (our correspondent among them) got leaf blowers banned in the nation’s capital.”

Yes, it’s a tale of activism and politics and how to get something done.

But Mary Carol was most inspired by Fallows’ description of the leaf-blower problem.

First, consider the two-stroke engine.

“The real marvel is the living-fossil nature of their technology,” Fallows writes. “And because the technology is so crude and old, the level of pollution is off the charts.”

While jet turbine engines, the production of electricity, and car engines are belching out dramatically less pollutants compared to 1950, the two-stroke engine remains so dirty that Fallows reports that the little engines could produce by 2020 “more ozone pollution than all the millions of cars in California combined. The two-stroke engines are that dirty. Cars have become that clean.”

Washington, D.C.

But then there is the problem at hand — the noise. It can cumulatively damage hearing. Huh?

Fallows tells of research showing that the low-frequency noise coming from gas leaf blowers “has great penetrating power: It goes through walls, cement barriers, and many kinds of hearing-protection devices.

“The acoustic study found that in a densely settled neighborhood, a gas-powered blower rated at, say, 75 decibels of noisiness can affect up to 15 times as many households as a battery-powered blower with the same 75-decibel rating.”

The crescendo of Fallows’ story is that on New Year’s Day 2022, the use of gas-powered leaf blowers will be illegal within the city limits of Washington, D.C.

Here in the Lowcountry, The Greenery landscaping contractor introduced some battery-powered equipment three years ago to be used in places like Beaufort’s Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, Sun City in Okatie and Harbour Town on Hilton Head. It was, at the time, only a small fraction of the gas-powered inventory, but the new blowers maxed out at 78 decibels while the gas blowers peaked at 93 decibels.

“It’s not that there are no alternatives that could be used,” Mary Carol said. “It’s a matter of people demanding it.”

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Senior editor David Lauderdale has been a Lowcountry journalist for more than 40 years. He oversees the editorial page, writes opinion, and tells the stories of our community. His columns have twice won McClatchy’s President’s Award. He grew up in Atlanta, but Hilton Head Island is home.
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