Lake Oswego City Council approves switch to electric landscape equipment
The use of gas-powered lawn equipment has become a hot topic among Lake Oswego residents.
During the Feb. 2 Lake Oswego City Council meeting, the council took a leap forward with addressing a goal set forth in the Climate Action Plan to limit hazardous air pollutants.
The City Council voted 4-3 to approve a $377,040 contract with STORM Landscape Services for the use of electric equipment for landscape work at more than 200 city sites.
Rachel Sykes, assistant public works director, presented two approaches for the council to consider. The first, which was recommended by city staff, was to award a contract in the amount of $290,100 for use of gas-powered equipment or a hybrid approach with gas and electric landscape equipment. The second approach was electric equipment only.
Sykes said staff recommended the first approach due to cost, efficiency and feasibility.
Sykes said it's roughly a 30% cost increase to use electric equipment and that challenges may arise with regard to the market of electric landscape products.
Randy Mihalko, owner of STORM Landscape Services, said electric equipment has come a long way in the last few years. He said certain electric trimmers, edgers and chainsaws are comparable in efficiency and production to gas-powered equipment, but the cost is three to four times higher.
"The blowers and the mowers, not so much," said Mihalko, adding that the electric-powered leaf blowers blow at about half the volume of what a gas-powered leaf blower would. This, he said, will work in summer months but will require more personnel and battery power during the wet seasons, when leaves are more difficult to remove.
Mihalko said he doesn't have much experience with large electric mowers. The event where he usually demos equipment was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there are not many places offering this type of equipment in the Pacific Northwest.
Council members were at odds over whether to go with the hybrid approach or a fully electrical approach.
"I want to be electric really, really bad," said Councilor Rachel Verdick. "I'm just not sure if we're being slightly unreasonable to expect it right now, especially with the mowers and potentially even the blowers in those heavy rainy October, November months."
Verdick said the hybrid approach would be a good place to start, with the goal of moving to all electric in one or two years when more commercial products are available.
Councilor Massene Mboup said other cities banned gas-powered landscaping equipment years ago.
"We are not a pioneer. We are lagging behind in terms of climate change, in terms of environmental policies," Mboup said. "I think it's a bad idea to invest in gas."
On the other hand, Councilor John Wendland said a hybrid approach was prudent to moving forward. He said the batteries for electric equipment would be a large investment and that the commercial industry for this equipment isn't quite there yet, though he believes that will change. He said the contract can be adjusted as the market adjusts.
"I've always been a price-sensitive person anyway and I think a 30% increase in your landscaping equipment is significant," Wendland said.
Some council members asked about charging stations for the electric equipment batteries. Sykes said charging stations could be placed in places like parks maintenance facilities.
The contract is also an annual contract that can be up for renewal each year for an additional four years.
Mayor Joe Buck reminded people that if after approval, they find an all-electric request is not feasible, they could come back and ask for an amendment to the contract. This could happen, for example, if there was a challenge with purchasing large electric mowers.
Buck asked Mihalko if he could deliver on an all-electric contract and Mihalko said yes, though there is uncertainty behind large mowers. Mihalko also said this approach will require more labor, especially during the rainy leaf season, but extra labor is planned for in the contract amount.
"I'm always up for a challenge," Mihalko said.
Buck and councilors Daniel Nguyen, Massene Mboup and Verdick ultimately approved the second approach, which would use electric equipment only for landscaping maintenance.
Duke Castle, with the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network, was impressed the City Council approved the use of electric-only equipment for landscaping.
"I think it's very forward looking," Castle said. "The discussion they had I thought was excellent."
Castle said awarding this contract was a trifecta; it addressed racial inequity, health and the climate crisis.
"Many of the people working on these (gas-powered landscaping equipment) — at least to my observation — are Latinos, people of color, they're absorbing all the emissions from this stuff and it's not good. Obviously with the emissions, the climate change issue is also there," Castle said. "Our council's always been fiscally responsible but that doesn't always mean you take the lowest cost option."
Sometimes, Castle added, it's more important to invest in the future of the citizens.
The City Council also gave direction on a smaller $51,480 stormwater contract with Seagraves Landscape Inc. to move forward with electric equipment only.
For more information, visit the city's website.
Rassekh Park project moves forward
During the Tuesday evening meeting, the City Council also awarded a $597,121 architectural and engineering design contract to Mackenzie for the Rassekh Park project.
Developing fields on the 9.8 acre Rassekh Park property was identified as a priority with the $30 million park bond passed in May 2019.
The proposed development includes a multi-use sports field using artificial turf, field lighting, bleachers, a bathroom facility, parking and a playground.
Jenny Anderson, project manager, said a traffic impact analysis is currently underway in conjunction with the new recreation and aquatic center to understand the impact of both of these projects along Stafford Road.
Nguyen asked if the Lake Oswego School District would have access to the ball fields.
Parks Director Ivan Anderholm said the district would have access — though on city-owned property, the city has priority access.
Buck asked about incorporating sustainable elements into the park design as well as design elements that make the project accessible to all.
Anderholm said staff is conscious about the intersectionality of artificial turf and the natural environment, and that those aspects are being taken into consideration. He said the flat site lends itself to a fully accessible design as well.
Council members were also curious about the configuration of the site, but Anderholm said he hopes to have a better sense of this after the public outreach process.
For more information on the project, click here.
The City Council also unanimously approved the council goals for 2021. This included each of eight proposed long-term, overarching goals and 18 initiatives, nine of which are new — projects or actions that can be completed in 12 to 18 months.
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