Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers

Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers

Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers

Love ‘em or Leave ‘em?

by Janet Hommel / October 4, 2021

If the reverie of your peaceful morning walk has ever been shattered by the reverberations of a leaf blower, or if you’ve been jolted awake when your neighbor’s lawn crew fired up, or if your Zoom meeting was drowned out by a landscaper working directly beneath your office window, help could be on the way.

Hundreds of cities across the country have significantly curtailed or even banned the use of landscaping tools powered by noisy two-stroke gas engines.  Leading the way were cities in California, beginning in the 1970s.  Places in the northeast followed suit.  Now even municipalities in Florida have jumped on the bandwagon to improve the quality of life for their residents — cities like Palm Beach, Key Biscayne and Naples.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way . . . but is there the will?

Recently, the City of Winter Park emailed residents a comprehensive survey about leaf blowers. The survey is still on the City website, and the link will be live through October 6. If you haven’t yet completed the survey, you can do so by clicking here.

The Keep Winter Park Beautiful and Sustainable Advisory Board created the survey to gauge residents’ sentiments regarding the possibility of imposing new restrictions on the types of leaf blowers used and/or the hours of operation.

If the will is there, citizens must take the lead

If the use of gas leaf blowers is to be curtailed in Winter Park, citizens must lead the way. City leaders generally have little appetite for imposing new restrictions unless residents are clamoring for them. It is up to all of us to educate ourselves, understand the tradeoffs and tell City leaders what we think.

What’s so bad about leaf blowers anyway . . . besides the awful noise?

The source of the problem is the antiquated two stroke engine design which has little improved since the early 1900s. These relics of the past slosh around a mixture and oil and gas then spew out up to one-third of the fuel mixture in a toxic aerosol. Ever notice that scent of benzene wafting in the air near a lawn crew? This is even more dangerous for the worker than it is for the environment.

Jim Fallows wrote in the April 2019 Atlantic magazine, “By 2020, gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and similar equipment in the state could produce more ozone pollution than all the millions of cars in California combined. Two-stroke engines are that dirty. Cars have become that clean.“

The noise is inescapable

Gas-powered leaf blowers are demonstrably too loud. It is not unusual for backpack blowers to register up to 110 decibels near the operator. This is not safe. OSHA permits exposure up to 90 dBA for an 8-hour day. For each 5 dBA over that, exposure time must be cut in half. Do the math — OSHA does not permit workers to be exposed to the level of noise emitted by backpack gas blowers for more than 30 minutes a day. Studies show work crews will experience hearing loss after about 10 years of use.

Gas-powered blowers emit a low-frequency sound that seems to follow you everywhere.  Unlike high pitched noises, like drills, the racket from gas blowers travels a long distance and penetrates walls and windows. There is no escaping this noise unless you get in your car and drive to Starbucks, praying that they too are not seizing the opportunity to blow clear the premises.

If gas-powered blowers are bad, why do landscape contractors love them?

Three guesses. It’s the bottom line. The fastest, and therefore cheapest, way for a landscape contractor to move debris is not with a rake and broom or with an electric blower, it’s with that ear-splitting, particulate-spewing gas blower. And if the majority of Winter Park residents are more worried about the size of their landscaping bills than they are about worker safety, the environment and the general quality of life, we might as well stop talking right now.

Are battery-powered blowers quieter?

Electric blowers are much quieter, but don’t expect silence. They still create some noise, just not that wall-piercing low-frequency noise generated by the two-stroke motors in gas-powered leaf blowers.

How does performance stack up to gas?

While the performance of battery-powered equipment is catching up, they are not yet able to blow 200-MPH winds out the end of the nozzle. They are great for clearing dry clippings, but moving heavier wet debris may take longer. And time is money.

The biggest problem with battery blowers is the initial capital expense for contractors.  The batteries are expensive.  And with the current state of technology, a contractor will either need to invest in multiple batteries or use a generator.

Naples, FL is currently undergoing the transition to battery-powered blowers. David Mahl, a Naples-based landscape contractor with a 10-man crew explained the tradeoffs of switching to electric. He said it cost him about $10,000 to buy new equipment. He is not happy with the monetary costs of the switch, but understands it is the wave of the future and that all landscaping tools will eventually be battery operated. He had feared clients might find the results not as tidy but, so far, clients are happy with quieter blowers. He hasn’t decided if needs to pass along a price increase.

Sound off

Two-stroke engines have been regulated out of use in almost all other applications. Lawn equipment for homeowners is already trending toward battery power, but landscape contractors are dragging their feet. No one wants to incur the expense of switching when the competition can keep using cheap, noise-polluting equipment.  That’s where Winter Park has to step in.

If you want some peace and quiet, let your Mayor and Commissioners know. Write

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City Adopts COVID Vaccine Policy

City Adopts COVID Vaccine Policy

City Adopts COVID Vaccine Policy

Protects City Workers & Residents

by Anne Mooney / September 9, 2021

On Sept. 9, the Orlando Sentinel reported a story titled “Unvaccinated employees face firing.”

In fact, termination of employment would be the last resort, and would not take place without due process. The City’s COVID-19 vaccination and testing policy is clearly laid out in a document in the September 8 Commission Meeting Agenda Packet. Highlights of that policy are below, and are anything but draconian.

COVID-19 Requirements

The City’s COVID-19 testing policy states, “All City employees are required no later than September 20, 2021 to either (a) establish that they have been fully vaccinated . . . or (b) produce weekly negative COVID-19 test results . . . . Vaccination and/or testing is required even if an employee previously tested positive for COVID-19. . . . To facilitate employees receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, the City will allow employees to attain the vaccine while on duty. . . .”

Testing Procedures for City Employees

City policy goes on to state: “Employees who do not provide documentation establishing that they are fully vaccinated shall be required to undergo diagnostic testing once weekly. . . .”

Testing will be scheduled by the City, paid for by the City at a City-approved location during the employee’s working hours. An employee who prefers to be tested off-hours at their own expense must use an FDA approved PCR or antigen test and provide the results to Human Resources.

Employees who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to quarantine in accordance with CDC guidelines.

Failure to comply

Effective September 27, employees who do not provide proof of full vaccination and who fail to provide a negative COVID-19 test weekly may be placed on unpaid leave until they provide proof of full vaccination and/or a negative test result. These employees may be subject to discipline up to and including discharge from employment. Employees seeking medical or religious accommodation should contact Human Resources. Falsification of immunization documentation, test results or accommodation request will be grounds for dismissal.

City falls short of 65 percent goal

On August 2, the City announced a voluntary employee COVID-19 vaccination incentive to encourage unvaccinated employees to become fully vaccinated by September 20. Education and incentives, however, failed to convince enough employees to become vaccinated. At the September 8 Commission meeting, City Manager Randy Knight reported 218 City employees had submitted proof of full vaccination – 35 employees short of the 316 employees it would take to reach the 65 percent threshold of 316 employees.

Acknowledging its responsibility to its employees to provide a work environment conducive to the safe delivery of City services, the City has implemented the policy outlined above.

What is ‘herd immunity’?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) website, herd immunity occurs when a given disease ceases to spread among a population. In terms of population percentage required, herd immunity is different for each disease. Herd immunity for measles is 95 percent, while for polio the threshold is 80 percent. No one yet knows what herd immunity is for COVID-19, only that we’re nowhere near it.

Asked for his opinion about the current vaccination policy, Commissioner Marty Sullivan had this to say. “From a personal standpoint, polio extremely affected our family when my sister got it in 1948. After that, there was no question about vaccines. When they became available, we just did it. No questions asked.

“The Salk vaccine eradicated polio in this country because, all at once, everyone got the vaccine. If we had all gotten vaccinated against COVID-19 early on, we could have avoided the Delta variant breakthrough.

Sullivan went on to explain, “The Salk vaccine was released in 1955. By 1957, after mass vaccinations, the number of cases recorded annually in the U.S. fell from 58,000 to 5,600 cases. By 1961, the U.S. recorded only 161 cases. We will be living with COVID-19 for as long as people refuse to get vaccinated. Not a good prospect for us.”


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City Urges Employees: Get Vaxxed!

City Urges Employees: Get Vaxxed!

City Urges Employees: Get Vaxxed!

by Anne Mooney / August 19, 2021

At the July 28 Commission meeting, City Manager Randy Knight was asked to develop an incentive program to encourage City employees to become vaccinated against COVID-19. On Monday, Aug. 2, Knight introduced a voluntary incentive program that awarded any employee with proof of full vaccination a $150 bonus plus a day off with pay. To qualify for the incentive program, employees would have to produce proof of full vaccination by September 15.

Weekly COVID tests required for unvaccinated employees

Beginning September 20, employees who are unable or unwilling to present proof of vaccination will undergo mandatory weekly testing. Any unvaccinated employee who is unable to provide a negative COVID-19 test result each week will be placed on leave without pay until they are able to produce a negative test result.

65 Percent by September 15

The City’s goal is for 65 percent of employees to be fully vaccinated by September 15. If fewer than 65 percent of employees participate in the voluntary vaccination program, the Commission will call a special meeting to determine next steps.

The City employs a total of 540 people; 472 are full-time, 47 are part-time, and 21 are seasonal or temporary. The 65 percent threshold, to be achieved by September 15, translates to 351 employees. According to Communications Director Clarissa Howard, as of August 18, 224 employees had provided proof of full vaccination.

KN95 masks available on request

In the meantime, KN95 masks are available to all employees upon request, and the City is following CDC guidelines for wearing face coverings while in public indoor facilities where 6-foot social distancing cannot be observed.

What is ‘herd immunity?’

The goal of vaccinating 65 percent of employees is based on an arbitrary estimate of vaccination levels required to reach ‘herd immunity.’ The percentage of people who need to be immune to achieve herd immunity varies with each disease, and the medical community does not yet know the level required for COVID-19.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “herd immunity against measles requires about 95% of a population to be vaccinated. The remaining 5% will be protected by the fact that measles will not spread among those who are vaccinated. For polio, the threshold is about 80 percent.”

“The proportion of the population that must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to begin inducing herd immunity is not yet known,” according to the WHO website. “This is an important area of research and will likely vary according to the community, the vaccine, the populations prioritized for vaccination, and other factors.

“Until we better understand COVID-19 immunity, it will not be possible to know how much of a population is immune or how long that immunity will last, let alone can we make future predictions.”

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Open Letter to Mayor & Commissioners

Open Letter to Mayor & Commissioners

Open Letter to Mayor & Commissioners

Keep It Green!

by Guest Columnist Charley Williams / August 6, 2021

I invite this commission to put on their long-range visioning glasses and gaze five to ten years into the future — though many would say that falls short of “long-range.”

Orange Avenue Overlay will evolve

In 2030 I envision Orange Ave. as a walking mall, with no cars but plenty of cafes and other dining options. In fact, the OAO could evolve into a second downtown. If large property holders move forward we could have a hotel with outdoor seating, food and music.

Should the Jewett holding be sold to a retail development arm, we could have an entertainment zone as an anchor. Time will tell. Significant property ownership transfers are already underway.

Evolution requires green space

These pressures bring into sharp focus the need for passive, quiet green space, not just for existing neighborhoods in the immediate vicinity, but also for the tenants of new condo and rental properties still in the planning phases.

Link in the Emerald Necklace

Let’s zero in on the 4.5 acres at Progress Point — a logical keystone in the evolving ‘green necklace’ of the pedestrian-bike trail that will connect Mead Garden with Denning with MLK, Jr. Park and beyond.  Progress Point is the poster child for how that plan can emerge and blossom. It’s a brand identifier for our community.

What do citizens want on Progress Point?

The question now is on asset development of the Progress Point real estate. What do citizens want? We’ve heard references to retail space ranging from 7,000 to 13,000 square feet to upwards of 40,000 square feet—the size of a Publix. But none of these recommendations came from residents.

We run the risk of setting up an East End Market scenario, which often turns into a drive-by because there is overtaxed parking capacity and a plethora of ‘attitude’ signs from the neighbors warning against illegal parking.

Original purpose of Overlay was to benefit existing business

How do you control noise and congestion with a micro-brewery and rooftop live music after the sun goes down? Not to mention overflow parking and traffic pressures for the immediate nearby neighborhoods and parking displacement for the existing businesses on the avenue. Wasn’t that the original objective to begin with – to protect and benefit the existing businesses? Why the mission drift?

Are you putting residents first?

What’s now being proposed can totally change that neighborhood character. Is this what this Commission wants to be saddled with—when many of your campaigns promised to put residents first?

A 14,000-square-foot venue drives the need for more parking. Why do that? We have already identified parking as a priority service for existing businesses. Let’s address the needs of existing Orange Avenue businesses first, before taking any action on new development.

Test your assumptions with the voters

To date, the Commission has spent months putting crayon marks on a Progress Point master plan, but not once have they invited citizen input.

There is no other existing Winter Park park with a retail component within its boundaries.

How about a Pilot Program

One possible compromise would be to pilot the micro-retail experiment first with Cady Way Trail and Showalter Field to give cyclists, joggers and sports enthusiasts options for food and drink. There is a much larger park footprint to work with there.

How has this commission changed from the last one?

Many of us watched as two structures ate up 26 percent of MLK, Jr. Park and occasioned the removal of over 50 mature trees that provided much-needed shade. One result of that long and torturous fight was the demonstration of the will of the citizens to change the direction of the Commission. At least now, there is not a four-story office building with associated parking structure of equal size slated for Progress Point.

Keep it green!

But it’s time to swing the pendulum further. Keep what we have green and start looking for more future sources of open greenspace.

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Free Vaccinations at the Farmer’s Market

Free Vaccinations at the Farmer’s Market

Free Vaccinations at the Farmer’s Market

Saturday, July 17 & Saturday August 7

by Anne Mooney / July 15, 2021

The City of Winter Park is partnering with the Orange County Health Department to provide COVID-19  vaccinations at the Farmer’s Market this Saturday, July 17th.  Vaccinations are available free of charge to Winter Park residents and guests 12 years of age and older.

Free grocery coupons for the first 50

The first 50 people to receive a vaccination will also receive a $10 grocery coupon.

Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines available

On Saturday, July 17, Health Department personnel will be offering first doses of the Pfizer vaccine. They will also have limited quantities of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. If you get there early, you can choose which you want to receive. The City of Winter Park will have standby medical personnel on site.

Second Pfizer doses available August 7

On Saturday, August 7, medical personnel will administer for 2nd doses of the Pfizer vaccine and will, again, have limited amounts of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“So far we’ve received a lot of positive feedback,” said Fire & Rescue Chief Dan Haggedorn. “It couldn’t get better or easier.”

Winter Park Mayor Phil Anderson said, “We are happy to partner with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County to bring vaccinations to our community. We want to make it as easy as possible for everyone to protect themselves during the challenges we’re experiencing with COVID-19.”

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Randall Robertson Takes Over Winter Park Institute

Randall Robertson Takes Over Winter Park Institute

Randall Robertson Takes Over Winter Park Institute

Winter Park Institute to Find New Home at the Library-Events Center

by Anne Mooney / June 29, 2021

Effective July 1, Randall B. Robertson will become owner and executive director of the popular Winter Park Institute (WPI). WPI, the speaker series that has brought many celebrities to Winter Park, was created by Rollins College in 2007. WPI hosted speakers such as Maya Angelou, Ken Burns, David McCullough, Jane Pauley, Itzhak Perlman, Gloria Steinem and Winter Park’s very own 2-term U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins.

The Institute ceased operation last year when the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to live events. In order to keep the program alive, Winter Park Publishing Company (WPPC), owner of Winter Park Magazine, took over the Institute’s operation during lockdown.

WPPC conducted two virtual events during 2020, with the goal in mind of finding community partners as the pandemic receded and live events could return. At the top of the list of possible partners was Randall Robertson, who for the past 12 years has operated Gladdening Light, a Winter Park-based non-profit that sponsored an annual symposium that drew speakers and attendees from all over the U.S.

“The more I talked to Mr. Robertson, the more it became obvious that to ensure the continuity of WPI in a way that honors its tradition and delivers what Winter Park residents expect, he should be the person to run it,” said Winter Park Magazine editor and publisher Randy Noles. “Happily for everyone, he was at once committed and enthusiastic.”

Robertson said he is a long-time fan of WPI because it provided a forum for citizens “to hear from thought leaders in the public square, challenging us to stretch our thinking.”

“We want to continue attracting visionaries and extraordinary people from the arts and humanities, the sciences and literature, to advance public themes in education, society, the economy and politics,” said Robertson.

Robertson, himself a WPI speaker in 2012, said the new Winter Park Public Library and Events Center will be WPI’s official home, and that most of its events will be in one of the venues at the complex. “The Institute represents a beautiful opportunity to showcase Winter Park to the world,” he said.

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