Providence Committee Hears Ordinances to Prohibit LPG, Restrict Leaf Blowers, Allow Brighter Billboards
November 4, 2021
PROVIDENCE — The Providence Committee on Ordinances heard public comment Nov. 3 on a trio of controversial agenda items, but no decisions were made.
Up for discussion were the use of gas-powered leaf blowers, the implementation of electronic messaging billboards, and the proposed expansion of the Sea 3 Providence LLC facility and bulk storage of liquid propane gas, also called liquefied petroleum gas, (LPG) in the Port of Providence.
The committee took public comment at the meeting, but decisions were held due to the length of the meeting, according to chairperson Nicholas Narducci Jr. The committee will review all items at a separate meeting within the next 7-10 days.
LPG and Sea 3 expansion
If approved in the coming weeks, Ordinance 32292 — sponsored by City Council member Pedro Espinal and introduced in July — would amend zoning ordinances to prohibit the bulk storage of LPG in all city districts.
Resolution 32299 requests the state’s Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) to deny a petition for the expansion of LPG storage capacity filed by Sea 3 Providence in March. The subsidiary of New England propane provider Blackline Midstream LLC billed the expansion as an “insignificant modification to a major energy facility” and therefore should not be relegated to a full review by the EFSB, according to a petition the company filed in March.
The expansion has been opposed by the communities surrounding the Port of Providence and by the office of the Rhode Island attorney general.
“It is very important that something happen right now at this point … to protect the citizens of the city,” Linda Perri, chair of the Washington Park Neighborhood Association, told the Committee on Ordinances. She noted a prohibition of bulk LPG would be the first step toward stopping the Sea 3 expansion.
Barrington resident Susannah Holloway pushed the committee to demand a full review of the Sea 3 project by the EFSB and to curtail LPG storage altogether.
“The storage of this dirty fossil fuel is a very active process which entails potentially a 24-hour-a-day process of offloading a very flammable substance into tanks and trucks,” she said, noting storage was a “misnomer” that underrepresented the risk posed to surrounding communities.
She claimed increased LPG storage capacity is intended to benefit neighboring states, not the residents of Rhode Island. She suggested the infrastructure of the port be turned to solar and wind development.
“We would bear the risk of fire and plumes of exhaust to service the Northeast with a dirty fuel,” Holloway said. “Just because we are small and poor compared to Massachusetts, we should not be the armpit of New England.”
Others suggested the continued and expanded storage of fossil fuels in the port was inconsistent with the city’s stance on sustainability and climate justice.
“By increasing air pollution and further investing in fossil fuels, this is taking us farther from our goals for a climate-resilient future,” Nina Wolff Landau said.
Leaf blowers: tool or nuisance?
Ordinance 33680, sponsored by City Council member John Goncalves, would add a section outlining the use of leaf blowers to the city’s provisions on noise control. It would prohibit the use of leaf blowers with an average sound level exceeding 65 decibels in residential zones and prohibit the operation of leaf blowers throughout the city from 6 p.m.-9 a.m.
“There is not a single day that I am away from the noise of the leaf blowers,” Jacqueline Satlow said. “It takes away significantly from my enjoyment of my own personal property, but it’s also … getting in the way of my ability to work.”
Amy Remensnyder detailed a list of dangers linked to gas-powered leaf blowers, from noise pollution and hearing loss to high blood pressure and impaired immune systems. She also noted their inefficient fuel use and lack of emissions controls, “clouds” of fine particulate matter kicked into the air by blowers, and the harm caused to topsoil and wildlife habitat when hit by “high-velocity air jets.”
“This is the environmental price that Providence citizens collectively pay for gas-powered leaf blowers and I think it’s too high,” she said, pushing the city to ban leaf blowers altogether.
According to Goncalves, the ordinance “could have gone a lot further” to ban leaf blower use entirely. But it was drafted with the needs of landscaping companies in mind, he said, and prohibited times were adjusted “as to not kill or negatively impact their businesses.”
But according to City Council member Oscar Vargas and landscaping representatives, the ordinance already goes too far.
“It’s a great ordinance … but we’re not ready yet,” Vargas said. “If we go with this ordinance, we’re going to put out of business a bunch of small businesses.”
Tom Bennett, owner of Providence-based City & Estate Gardener, claimed the ordinance would reduce productive works hours by 20 percent, increase landscaping costs, and increase the physical burden placed upon landscape workers.
While his company has invested $15,000 in the past three years on battery-powered equipment, he said quieter electric leaf blowers are not up to the task of large cleanup jobs that come in quick succession during the busy fall season.
Ethan Hattoy, of Hattoy’s Nursery, Landscaping and Garden Center in Coventry, agreed, saying that the use of electric leaf blowers is “just not practical.” Without the use of “efficient” gas-powered leaf blowers, he said landscaping jobs now billed at $200-$300 could increase to $900-$1,000.
“I care about the environment, and I want to do what’s environmentally sound for now and for the future,” Hattoy said. “Right now, the technology is not there.”
One of the first rakes to be issued a patent was invented by Edmund Brown in 1874.
Also on the Nov. 3 agenda was Ordinance 29347, which would change city illumination standards to allow static billboards to be converted to electronic message signs.
The amendment is petitioned by Lamar Outdoor Advertising, a company that recently and “erroneously” chopped down a contingent of highway buffer trees on city land. The company said the trimming of trees for visibility purposes went beyond what was authorized by the city due to a “miscommunication” with its subcontractor.
The amendment — opposed by the Fox Point Neighborhood Association, the Washington Park Neighborhood Association, and Scenic America — has been back and forth between the City Council and the Ordinance Committee since July 2020. It was continued again, with no public comment received.