BC municipality votes to phase out gas-powered garden tools

Residents of Oak Bay, British Columbia will soon have to permanently turn off their gas snowblowers.

Community councilors on southern Vancouver Island voted on Tuesday to phase out residential use of all gas-powered garden tools over the next three years. The motion is expected to take effect in 2023, which means residents have until the end of 2025 to replace older tools with newer technologies, such as electric alternatives.

The motion was presented by the con. Tara Ney and mentions concerns about carbon emissions and noise. Ney said the three-year window gives power tool prices time to come down.

“Technology will advance and costs will come down,” Ney said, speaking to the council on Wednesday.

Mayor Kevin Murdoch says spreading the word now gives Oak Bay residents time to prepare.

“Once people find out, when they go to the store and their lawn mower is acting up or they need a new weed killer, they’ll be like ‘well, I should really look for an electric option at this point,'” Murdoch said. “It will be an organic change over the next three years.”

In 2021, the council voted to phase out municipal employees’ use of carbon-producing gardening equipment by 2025. This week’s decision also follows a petition started in 2021 by Oak Bay resident Francis Landy calling for a ban on residents’ use of gas-powered leaf blowers.

As of Wednesday morning, this petition had 670 signatures.

Noise and pollution issues

Oak Bay residents can currently use a gas-powered leaf blower between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays and between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays, per district regulations.

“Noise is a very seriously underestimated health issue,” Landy said, speaking on Wednesday on BC Today.

The petition creator said he was “overwhelmed” to see the council pass the motion, which he said could help people with post-traumatic stress disorder or tinnitus.

According to WorkSafeBC, noise levels above 85 decibels averaged over eight hours can damage hearing, and lawn mowers and leaf blowers can both pose these risks.

According to the California Air Resources Board, a public agency set up to combat air pollution, running a gas-powered leaf blower for an hour emits as much smog-forming pollution as a modern sedan driving through 1,770 kilometres.

Oak Bay isn’t alone in trying to phase out gas-powered garden tools.

A noise bylaw in 2004 banned the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in Vancouver’s West End neighborhood, making it the first neighborhood in Canada to ban such devices.

In July 2021, a Research Co. survey of 800 British Columbians showed that 34%, or about a third, favored a municipal ban on gas-powered lawn mowers, while more than 44% opposed were against it. But support for banning gas-powered leaf blowers was highest on Vancouver Island, where 48% of those polled were behind the idea.

Half of those who took part in the survey said they were “very” or “fairly” worried about noise pollution associated with the use of landscaping equipment, while 40% felt the same about about air pollution.

Murdoch said he thinks neighboring jurisdictions will follow suit and also start banning gas-powered garden equipment now that Oak Bay has made up its mind.

The mayor also said district staff will prepare a report for council with details on how to enforce the ban when it comes into effect.

Murdoch said municipalities don’t have the power to regulate environmental issues — only the provincial government does — and staff will work with the province to figure out how to structure Oak Bay’s regulations to make that happen.

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