The hum of gas-powered lawn tools could soon be replaced by the hum of honey bees in Lewes backyards.
The City of Lewes has a policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change where possible. The city says gasoline engines emit large amounts of pollutants into the environment, deteriorating air quality and contributing to hearing loss. Officials have also recognized the effects of climate change on pollinators, particularly bees. The green-thinking mayor and city council discussed the upcoming ban on gas-powered lawn equipment, as well as allowing beekeeping within city limits, during their October 27 workshop.
Former Councilor Rob Morgan was leading an ordinance banning gas-powered lawn equipment when it was passed in 2020 when the December 31, 2022 and December 31, 2025 dates were set to allow the technology to catch up and consumers to buy new products. Landscapers helped draft the legislation and informed officials that battery technology has become feasible in some devices, but more time is needed for other types.
Effective December 31 of this year, all gas powered lawn equipment will be banned from use by residents and businesses. The only exceptions are leaf blowers, chainsaws and grass trimmers, which will be banned in 2025. Gas-powered lawn mowers are exempt from the ban.
“When this provision comes into effect this year we need to make sure we include this in our tender specifications and this could change the tendering landscape,” said City Manager Ann Marie Townshend.
Townshend said she believes there haven’t been major advances in battery longevity since 2020 and this could be a challenge for landscapers. Businesses that rely on multiple jobs per day could be hampered by the operational constraints imposed by a dead battery. Fearing it could cost citizens more money for their services, Townshend said the question is whether the mayor and city council want to delay implementation.
The initial ban eliminates hand tools, including hedge trimmers. While the technology is there for most small landscaping equipment, there was a question about hedge trimmers. Mayor Andrew Williams, a council member at the time the ordinance was passed, was joined by council member Tim Ritzert to explain the thought process the mayor and city council were having in 2020. Williams said the feedback received suggested battery-powered hedge trimmers could work just as well as gas-powered, but that wasn’t the case with chainsaws or leaf blowers.
“Hedge trimmers aren’t typically used for hours; they’re episodic, and those episodes are pretty short,” Ritzert said.
Williams thought it would be good to discuss the upcoming ban before it goes into effect, in line with former councilwoman Bonnie Osler’s request in 2020. Williams said if two council members are keen on changing the ordinance, they can set an upcoming agenda for change.
“We’re not here to do anything about it now; It’s really just letting the community know: this is there,” he said. “If there is no change, you are expected to use a battery powered or plug-in.”
The mayor and city council will discuss the ordinance during their meeting on Monday, November 14 and may vote to amend the ordinance. If they make no changes, the law will come into effect on December 31st.
Beekeeping in Lewes is currently illegal but officials are trying to change that. According to the Lewes Beekeeping Club, 85% of plants need bees and other pollinators. Sumner Crosby spoke with the mayor and city council on October 27 about the benefits of beekeeping and how to adopt the practice without compromising public safety.
One of the devastating consequences of climate change is the decline in populations of important pollinators, he said. Perhaps no pollinator is as important as the honey bee. In addition to climate change, development and deforestation have devastated the habitat of honey bee species. Beekeepers have been able to fill part of the gap by nurturing colonies of domesticated honey bees in a controlled environment.
Crosby said responsible beekeeping is not only mandatory, it is desirable in practice. As head beekeeper at Lewes Beekeeping Club, which has around 50 members, he is one of 20 trained members who could look after bees in their respective backyards but are currently unable to do so. Crosby has been a beekeeper for 20 years and says Lewes Beekeeping Club is all about educating the public, particularly about western honey bee behaviour.
Crosby said if people come into contact with the western honey bee, since it’s among plants, they shouldn’t be bothered by the insect. The closer a person gets to the hive of honey bees, the greater the risk of aggressive behavior. If Lewes allows the practice, experienced beekeepers could begin to maintain the area of highest aggression.
The state of Delaware requires all hives to be registered and contain moveable frames. Crosby suggested Lewes introduce a registry and regulations along these lines.
State laws include inspection requirements to assess hive health, check for diseases and ensure that no Africanized bees have been introduced.
“Any beekeeper worth their salt checks the health of their hive every time they go in,” Crosby said.
When asked about the potential for native species to be adversely affected by the introduction of new colonies, Crosby believed it was an urban problem. In an area like Lewes, pollen-producing plants are abundant and scattered, but in a place like New York City, there are concentrated areas with limited food sources. The addition of bees could help increase biomass levels in backyards without impacting the food supply of native species, according to Crosby.
The experienced beekeeper offered his services and welcomed the input of others in developing new beekeeping policies. Williams said the next step will be to get council consensus before proceeding.