Politics blog

Top officials: State ground crews need to cut noise from gas-powered leaf-blowers

Staff writerMarch 20, 2014 

Groundskeeper Jeff Hogan uses a gas-powered blower to clean up debris on the west Capitol campus near the Temple of Justice in background. The gas-powered blowers will soon be replaced by electric models which are more ecologically friendly. Hogan says he uses a blower every day and considers it an indispensable tool.

DREW PERINE — Staff photographer Buy Photo

The word came down Thursday from the State Capitol Committee: No more noisy, gas-powered leaf blowers on the state Capitol Campus, please. It's upsetting to the tranquil beauty of the environs, state Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark said.

Tom Henderson, assistant director at Enterprise Services, the landlord agency that tends to the grounds, said electric blowers already are being used around the Governor’s Mansion. But he said the department will look into options for doing that campus wide.

The proposal came out of the blue during Thursday's routine meeting of the committee, which has a say on on policies and land-use decisions on the Capitol Campus and state property around Thurston County.

Goldmark, a second-term Democrat, said he lives near the campus and often walks there but finds it is way too noisy sometimes:

“I happen to live in the neighborhood and walk frequently on the campus. So I can attest to its outstanding beauty. Unfortunately, from time to time the tranquility of this beautiful campus is interrupted by lots of noisy equipment.  I would like to bring a motion before this committee … that we ask for the phase out of all fossil fuel-powered leaf blowers by the end of this current fiscal year to ensure the tranquility of this Capitol Campus. … I know the governor has asked for quieter … non-fossil fuel powered leaf blowers around his residence.”
Goldmark said the disturbances have been heard on weekends along Maple Park Avenue where he lives, and office operations in his fourth-floor offices in the Natural Resources Building have been disrupted during the week by blowers roaring down in the alley next door.

"I think it's something we’ll have to take a look at. We need to look at the options that are available to us," Henderson said. "We are using electric blowers at the mansion.” 

No one voted against the idea. The State Capitol Committee includes Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a representative of the governor and the lands commissioner. Mark Neary, deputy secretary of state, subbed for Wyman and questioned whether the crews would need to use electric blowers, but Goldmark said he would leave decisions to the staff.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s office confirmed that he and his wife Trudi asked for battery powered blowers around the mansion not long after they moved in during January 2013.

“So we have two rechargeable, battery-powered leaf blowers that we acquired last year,” DES spokesman Jim Erskine said. “The batteries last about 20 minutes for us, which works OK in a smaller residential setting like the mansion. We understood as well that the Inslees … were interested in reducing emissions.’’

Goldmark’s request comes two months after state Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, introduced a bill that would ban the gas-powered blowers from the campus. 

As we reported, Ranker said gasoline-powered leaf blowers are noisy and emit greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. He suggested the state “needs to lead” with policies that are in line with state goals on climate change.

Senate Bill 6342 would have let state workers use electricity-powered blowers, but Ranker also said they could use brooms and rakes to pick up leaves from Capitol Campus lawns.

“I understand for state employees it’s a lot easier to use a leaf blower than to use a broom. But they can still use brooms,” Ranker said. “So I think we should break out the brooms and rakes and retire the leaf blowers.’’

Ranker’s proposal did not get a hearing in committee. Perhaps Goldmark's move proves in a new way the old adage that a bill never really dies in the Legislature.

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