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City workshop reviews sustainability issues

By Grace Lovins

The city of Birmingham is looking to establish a sustainability board to address the greater issue of sustainability within the city following a workshop meeting held by the city commission on Monday, October 3, which coincides with the city’s plans to advance sustainability in the 2040 master plan and the growing national conversation around increasing sustainability.

City planner Leah Blizinski began the workshop with a presentation of Michigan’s climate goals, as well as local efforts by neighboring cities with types of environmental advisory boards to increase sustainability practices. Royal Oak, Huntington Woods, Southfield and Oak Park currently have boards intended to address environmental issues and sustainability, along with Ferndale, which has been globally recognized at the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

According to city manager Tom Markus, the board would have both a proactive and reactive charge when it comes to driving the establishment of a sustainability plan and review what the commission sends to them. The board will receive direction from the commission and will also have a written list of activities the body should work to accomplish.

Markus also noted that he feels the board would be better off with a general application, with the commission deciding in the interview process if candidates have a background or education that makes sense for the commission to consider.

Commissioner Katie Schafer, who brought up the idea of a sustainability board a few months ago, said she hopes the board will serve to bring engaged people together to develop ideas and push initiatives. She also stated that a potential task of the board could be to create opportunities for young people to be involved. Mayor Therese Longe agreed, recommending working with students to get school credit for community clean up or providing opportunities for Eagle Scout projects.

In addition to discussing the formation of a sustainability board, the commission contemplated ways to address gas-powered leaf blowers in the city, hinting at a potential phase-out at some point in the future. Dupuis noted that the issue was raised originally by commissioner Clinton Baller around three to four months ago.

After looking further into gas-powered leaf blowers, Dupuis presented the commission with concerns they raise with noise pollution as well as the environment. Several communities around the country have been restricting or banning gas-powered leaf blowers – the most notable ban being enacted in the state of California last year, which applied to gas-powered leaf blowers and lawnmowers. Some of the main problems with gas-powered leaf blowers, according to Dupuis, come from the emissions, noise and environmental impact of the equipment.

“The main problem is it’s an oil and gas mixture, and not all of that oil and gas mixture gets burned as the leaf blower operates so out of the exhaust you get oil and gas mixture not only into the air but into the ground. Over time that tends to build up … and then eventually it gets into the water table and starts to affect water quality,” Dupuis said.

Gas-powered leaf blowers also create an issue of noise. Dupuis said the decibel levels have been described as high as an airplane taking off, and the low frequency sound waves essentially meaning the noise can get through building materials and into homes slightly easier than high frequency sound waves.

Mary Kucharek, city attorney, noted that other communities in the state are prohibiting leaf-blowers in certain areas, on certain days of the week, and hours of the day to reduce the noise level. Ann Arbor currently prohibits leaf-blowers in certain areas in the downtown district instead of throughout the entire city. Longe recommended planners look at the language from the Ann Arbor prohibitions for guidance on what the city could potentially do about the noise issue.

Dupuis told the commission he would begin to work on an education campaign, as suggested by Longe, to bring in more resources for city staff to discuss. He will also return to the commission with a recommended resolution to establish a sustainability board within the city.


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