Coun. Tara Ney raking leaves behind Oak Bay municipal hall. Ney’s work has led to Oak Bay phasing out municipally used gas-powered leaf blowers over the next five years. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Coun. Tara Ney raking leaves behind Oak Bay municipal hall. Ney’s work has led to Oak Bay phasing out municipally used gas-powered leaf blowers over the next five years. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Oak Bay to phase out municipal gas leaf blowers but not residential

Time to make climate decisions, not economic ones, advocates say

Oak Bay public works will start a five-year transition from using small engine gas-powered landscape equipment such as lawnmowers and leaf blowers to electric versions.

Council approved the staff recommendation that stems from Coun. Tara Ney’s year-long push to explore banning gas-powered leaf blowers in Oak Bay. However, the 114-year-old district will not ban residential or commercial use which staff also recommended against amid ongoing complaints about noise.

It was a polarized debate that ate up much of the Monday night council session.

READ ALSO: Oak Bay a step closer to banning gas-powered leaf blowers

“The good news is Oak Bay is moving immediately to phase out carbon-producing garden equipment, including gas-powered leaf blowers. That’s a good thing,” Ney said.

She is disappointed council did not support a phased-in transition to electric blowers for residents.

“Gas-powered leaf blowers are a significant irritant to our quality of life, and degrade planetary health. I believe the majority of residents in Oak Bay are ready to make the shift to greener technology,” Ney said.

Ney suggested garden companies in the region have made the transition to non-carbon garden equipment and business is “gangbusters.”

Christopher Paine, Oak Bay’s director of financial services, countered, saying he called local landscape companies and found many claiming hardship from the necessary costs.

Oak Bay’s five-year transition plan is similar to the City of Victoria, which pledged to have all power tools and small engine equipment renewably powered by 2025.

READ MORE: Interest swirls in Oak Bay to ban gas-powered leaf blowers

Oak Bay’s staff report said an immediate turnover for the 2021 fall leaf season would require $10,000 in labour costs and $16,800 in equipment. The report cites a gas-powered 600 series leaf blower that parks currently use costs $800 compared to a less powerful electric equivalent that costs $4,200.

Mike McQuay of Mike McQuay Lawn and Garden included those numbers in a letter opposing the commercial ban.

“If and when battery-powered equipment were to ever be as powerful and sold at a comparable price to gas-powered equipment then I am certain that commercial operators would be more willing to make the switch,” McQuay said.

Chris Hyde-Lay, manager of parks services, said there is too much uncertainty to switch immediately to electric options for small tools.

“Our concern from a parks operation point of view is … I don’t want to do it too quickly and run into these operational challenges in regards to maintenance by having some equipment that isn’t quite there yet. But it will be soon,” Hyde-Lay said.

Teale Phelps Bondaroff, who has been petitioning in Saanich to ban gas-powered leaf blowers, and who supports the residential ban as well, called it another stall at the municipal government level in the needed steps for climate change.

“If you’re not willing to make tiny incremental changes then you’re not willing to take the big steps to fight climate change and that’s disheartening,” Bondaroff said.

Andrea Careless of the Oak Bay Climate Force, a group that advocates for green options in Oak Bay, was also disappointed in the reasons not to consider the ban in the community. Residential and commercial use of gas-powered leaf blowers could have been a phased-in transition, she said.

“It seems a little bit hypocritical,” Careless said. “I do understand the effect on commercial operations especially in times of covid, and we can’t just automatically switch over to electricity. It’s sort of like fossil fuel workers, we can’t just say, ‘no more pipelines and you have no jobs.’ We have to have a transition and it’s the same thing here, I believe there should be a phaseout.”

reporter@oakbaynews.com