Leaf blowers may be swept away in Fort Lauderdale

Article Courtesy of  The Sun Sentinel

By Susannah Bryan

Published October 11, 2020


FORT LAUDERDALE — The city is considering a ban on leaf blowers and their decibel-crushing assault on the ear, but it could end up costing you money.

Mayor Dean Trantalis is proposing the controversial ban, not just because leaf blowers buzz like chainsaws, but because landscape trimmings sometimes get blown into the street. Once in the street, the debris can wind up in storm drains, then get swept into the waterways and, in the worst cases, result in algae blooms.


“It’s not just noise pollution,” Trantalis said. “It’s water pollution.”

Landscapers, however, are not happy about the possibility of losing a tool that saves them countless hours. Resorting to brooms and rakes will take forever and lead to higher prices for consumers, they say.

The mayor understands that but says he plans to ask city staff to draft an ordinance before the end of the year that would ban the blowers.

Fort Lauderdale would not be the first. Key Biscayne banned gas-powered blowers in 2018. The town of Palm Beach banned them on properties smaller than an acre in 2017, after years of debating whether to embrace an outright ban.

California’s Carmel-by-the-Sea was the first city to ban them in 1975, the Los Angeles Times reported. Since then, more than 100 cities in 15 states have banned leaf blowers or limit the times of day they can be used, according to one report by the Natural Resources Commission in Davis, California.


Coral Gables toyed with the idea 10 years ago but tabled the plan after homeowners and landscapers came out in force against it.

Tellis Robinson of Angler Lawn and Landscape uses a leaf blower to clean up after mowing a client's lawn Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale. Robinson opposes a proposed ban of leaf blowers.


Costs will skyrocket

Fort Lauderdale might just get the same reaction, says Kyle Bolger, the owner of Emerald Isle Landscape in Fort Lauderdale

“If a blower ban was put in place, the cost to [homeowner] associations would skyrocket,” Bolger said. “Costs would go up due to labor. If you have to go around a residential job with a rake and a broom, you could be there for an hour. And with a blower it would take just five minutes.”

A ban on leaf blowers would send landscaping crews back to the dark ages, said Armando Sariol, owner Top Green Landscaping in Weston.

“What are they supposed to use to blow the leaves?” he asked rhetorically. “I would just charge more. If it normally takes two hours, it will take four hours without a blower.”

That means the customer is going to pay more, said Pat O’Laughlin, owner of Angler Lawn & Landscape in Wilton Manors.

“We’d be handcuffed in getting the job done,” he said. “One of the main pieces of equipment would be banned. You’d have to rake it all into a pile.”

Breaking the rules

O’Laughlin says his crew bags the landscape trimmings and hauls them away.

“My guys know not to blow it in the storm drain,” he said. “I told my guys, ‘You do that and you’re fired.’ I’m the one who’s going to get cited by the city for letting the leaves wind up in the storm drain.”

But not every company follows the rules.

“They blow it out into the middle of Bayview Drive,” O’Laughlin said. “They don’t care and their bosses don’t care.”

In Key Biscayne, officials have seen in increase in landscaping crews violating the ban on gas-powered blowers even though it’s been on the books for two years.

“New contractors who are not aware of the ban are the ones we’re finding,” said Dario Gonzalez, one of the city’s code officers.

First-time violators get a verbal warning. A second violation warrants a written warning. And a third violation gets a $150 fine. After that, the fine goes up to $250.

Talk of a ban was sweet news to Fort Lauderdale resident Kathy Diaz, who says the smell of gas permeates her home whenever landscaping crews come around with their whirring blowers.

“My concern is the gas it emits into the environment,” she said. “It spreads dirt into the air. The leaf blowers are extremely noisy. It’s louder than a plane flying overhead.”

Trantalis says he’s been getting complaints from irate residents for years about crews blowing landscaping debris into the street.

“I see it myself,” he said. “I see them blowing debris into the storm drains.”

That’s already illegal in Fort Lauderdale. People caught doing it can be fined $150 — twice the fine they’d be charged in Hollywood. If they challenge the citation and lose, Fort Lauderdale’s fine increases to $225.

But it’s hard to catch everyone, because the city can’t put a cop or code officer on every corner to enforce it, Trantalis said.

‘We can’t be everywhere’

An all-out ban would cure that problem.

“We can’t be everywhere,” the mayor said. “But if you’re using a leaf blower, we’ll hear you.”

Commissioner Heather Moraitis said she was worried about the effect a ban would have on local landscaping businesses.

She suggested the city start by restricting their hours of use.

Like many cities, Fort Lauderdale has a noise ordinance that already restricts when the blowers can be used. Currently, the city allows them from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends.

In Hollywood, landscapers are allowed to use leaf blowers from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The start time on the barrier island moves back an hour to 8 a.m.

In Boca Raton, blowers are allowed from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Before moving ahead with a ban, Moraitis suggested Fort Lauderdale phase in any new rules.

Trantalis said the new rules could be phased in, but he stood his ground on the need for a ban.

“Even though COVID is impacting our economy, we don’t want to compromise the quality of our waterways,” he said. Plus, he said, tweaking the hours of use won’t solve the problem of leaves and debris getting into storm drains.

Vice Mayor Steve Glassman, whose district includes the beach, said he’s on board with the plan.

“It’s been an ongoing discussion in my district,” he said. “People are concerned not just with the noise aspect, but what it does to our storm drains and our waterways. I went on a tour of the waterways and it’s true, it does end up in our waterways. If we do ban them, the noise itself will tip people off that they’re using them.”

The city may get pushback from landscapers, but Glassman said it’s time to make a change.

“I’m sure they’re not going to be thrilled about it,” he said. “But this is getting critical. We’re the Venice of America. We’re known for our waterways. We have to do all we can to protect that.”

Fort Lauderdale would be on solid legal ground if it approved a ban, said Bob Jarvis, a law professor with Nova Southeastern University.

“What we’re talking about is whether cities can take action against excessive noise and they can,” he said. But the state Legislature could step in as it did when Key West tried to ban certain types of sunscreen, he said.