Friday, March 28, 2008

A small blow to leaf blowers

Wood River High student tries hand at local politics

Express Staff Writer

If Sun Valley Co. ever needs a lobbyist, it might consider Wood River High School student Patrick McMahon.

McMahon, son of Sun Valley Sewer and Water District Operations Manager Pat McMahon, didn't hesitate to get into it with the Sun Valley Planning and Zoning Commission at its meeting Thursday, March 27, in an attempt to amend the municipal code to include a ban leaf blowers.

"I'm interested in government, and although we learn about the federal side in school, I didn't have much knowledge of local government," said McMahon, whose quest was part of his senior project. "Leaf blowers are being restricted in cities all over the U.S. because they're seen as a nuisance."

McMahon proffered up an eloquent argument for a total ban, using a study that showed the decibel level of a backpack-powered leaf blower falls between a chainsaw and a live rock concert.

However, a number of landscapers were on hand to contest not only this fact, but also that a ban would bring with it a heavy economic impact.

"I want to thank Pat for his project and bringing up an issue that's been around for a long time, but there are now blowers out there that make half the noise he listed," said Mark Martens, president of Bellevue-based All Seasons Landscaping. "Instead, I recommend limiting the noise rather than the tool."

And this was in line with what the commissioners decided to do, especially considering McMahon's own survey of Sun Valley residents showed an approximately even number for and against such a ban.

"The fact that there's mixed response from residents leads me to believe that a noise restriction is more appropriate than a ban," Commissioner John Gaeddert said to McMahon. "However, the fact you're taking a position so strong it creates a response like this is a credit to you."

After cleaning up some language in the draft ordinance at their next meeting, the commissioners will recommend to the City Council that gas and electric blowers have a maximum noise limit of 65 decibels. According to one noise-level comparison chart, that's a little less loud than a vacuum cleaner.

While his ordinance didn't receive the support he hoped for, McMahon enjoyed plenty of praise for his approach and well-spoken arguments. And after around 45 minutes of discussion on the issue, he definitely got the look at city government for which he was aiming.

"I really enjoyed ... going through the process," McMahon said.

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