Leaf Blower Rules and the East Hampton – Southampton Divide

Dan Rattiner leaf blower cartoon
Cartoon by Dan Rattiner

Last week, citizens in the Village of Southampton crowded into a large hall to demand that the mayor and his trustees ban gasoline-powered leaf blowers all year round instead of just in the summer months.

“There are often anywhere from three to six blowers working in tandem outside our door,” filmmaker Orson Cummings said, according to The Southampton Press. “We can’t think straight and enjoy our lives.”

“You’ve been bombarded with hundreds of emails and letters, and you’ve done nothing,” somebody else said. “What’s taking so long?”

Many others waded in demanding action.

Mayor Jesse Warren chose to waffle. “There’s a lot to be considered,” he said.

People looked at one another.

Clearly there is something wrong with having a ban on gasoline powered leaf blowers only in July and August. Leaves hold tight to their trees in those months. The ground only starts to get littered with leaves beginning in October. And leaf blowing is legal then.

Is there some kind of a leaf-blowing cabal at work here? Have they threatened the mayor to make sure he continues with this seasonal restriction? What’s next? No strawberry picking in January? Come on!

The Southampton Press reported that the mayor said he’d like to set up some kind of public forum to discuss the issue and hear from people on both sides of the debate, reinforcing his waffle and putting an end to the discussion.

And what is it about leaf blowing anyway? By definition it is ridiculous. For millions of years leaves in the northern hemisphere turned gloriously colorful and subsequently fell from the trees to the ground in October without interference from humans. Suddenly, now it’s a problem. These leaves must be blown off wealthy people’s properties. They paid a lot of money for these properties. So they want them in pristine condition. What a boon for the landscaping business. They strap these 20-horsepower gasoline engines on the backs of their workers, slap noise-cancelling earmuffs over their ears, switch on the blower tubes and set them loose. Things get blown from hither to yon, and then, if not picked up — another operation entirely — get blown from yon back to hither, and customers get charged for a second time.

And there are tensions. On occasion, the workmen blow the leaves to the edge of a homeowner’s property and then, after looking left and right to make sure nobody is watching, blow them up in the air and across the property line to become the neighbor’s, after which they cackle and waddle away.

I would suspect that is what happened to Orson Cummings the filmmaker, who we all know makes his movies in collaboration with his brother Ben, who confirmed the leaf blower onslaught. He and Ben are sitting there in their home throwing their ideas around when they are suddenly silenced by a whole army of workmen making deafening noises as they blow leaves and debris high into the air to waft down upon the Cummings lawn just outside their door.

Leaf blowers have only been around recently. In the old days before leaf blowers, the landscapers used rakes. Rake, rake, rake. We all got along.

Does anybody recall the Leaf War of 2004? Ear-splitting leaf blower noises filled the air for hours.

This was in the early days of gasoline-powered leaf blowers. Prior to that time, both Southampton Town and East Hampton Town had operations that helped the citizenry fight the dreaded leaves. The Southampton Town Highway Departments would post dates and times when leaf-sucking town trucks went out to snarfle in all leaves raked to the shoulders of the roads in their respective towns. The trucks towed leaf-sucking trailers behind them on which were motorized machines that ground leaves into mulch for various municipal park foliage-growing projects. It was a win-win situation and the populace patiently tolerated the noisy, disgusting munching as these contraptions came along their particular road for a few minutes on the appointed day.

Anyway, about a month before leaf-sucking day in 2004, the Town of Southampton announced that as a belt-tightening measure, they were going to not make the leaf-munching pickup. The leaves fluttered to the ground as they always did that October. They were blown curbside as always. And there they sat, waiting. And then the word came down.

It would be as usual on the East Hampton side. But not on the Southampton side.

In downtown Sag Harbor, there is a road called Division Street, called that because the white line that goes down the center of it designates the boundary line between the Town of Southampton and the Town of East Hampton. (How that happened is a whole other story, but one that I am saving for another day.)

So what happened was that at midnight just before leaf pickup day, the horrendous roar of dozens of gas-powered leaf-blowing machines filled the air on the Southampton side as Southampton landscapers and their leaf blowing crews began blowing all their leaves across Division Street to the eastern side so that in the morning, the Town of East Hampton mulching trucks, not able to identify where any particular leaf came from, would inadvertently munch up these vagabond leaves from across the way.

Had this been done when using rakes was how you dealt with fallen leaves — or even if they had used electric leaf blowers, which just issue a gentle hum — the chaos that followed could have been avoided.

East Hampton police arrived to deal with the noise only to discover the gasoline leaf-blower people from Southampton holding up traffic at that hour. Caught red-handed. Then the East Hampton leaf-blower people arrived on the scene and started blowing leaves back across the street to Southampton.

What a night that was.

How did it work out? Well, at 3 a.m. an armistice was signed and the two sides agreed to just leave the leaves wherever they were without a further skirmish and everyone went home. A week later, Southampton Town repealed their new law and got all the leaves on their side mulched a few days after that.

Unmask the members of the leaf-blower cabal. The people of Southampton must get their village to answer their demands.

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