Some say change is the only constant in life. Apparently, change is also the only thing Southampton Town residents can count on in the town’s leaf pickup program.
After years of the town picking up all loose leaves piled at the curb, the Highway Department made a flurry of changes to the program this year, settling on requiring all residents below the age of 73 who wish to have leaves collected to use recyclable paper bags and put them on the curb for pickup, stressing that loose piles of leaves would be left at curbside.
But since then, residents across town have reported that highway workers have been picking up loose leaves piled on the sides of roads as well, as if the new rules were never put in place.
On Wednesday morning, Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor confirmed that the department has been picking up piles of loose leaves, although he couldn’t quantify at how many homes. He said many residents either hadn’t been made aware of changes to the program or were simply refusing to comply, so the department was picking up leaves in an effort to keep roads safe.
“Some areas people have cooperated very well, and I thank them for their effort,” he said. “They made the town safer and cleaner. Other people, either they don’t know or don’t care. I can’t twist people’s arms or threaten them.” He said the department is bypassing homes that have piles of leaves with brush in them, or leaves in plastic bags.
In some parts of town, 60 or 70 percent of residents are following the new program. In other areas, participation is at about 50 percent, he said. “It’s the first year of a change in the program,” Mr. Gregor said. “It’s going to take people a little time.”
Pressed for more comments on the most recent change, Mr. Gregor hung up on a reporter.
Many residents said they were upset that the new rules were not being enforced.
“The bottom line is that Alex is a liar,” said Billy Schaw, the president of the Riverside Revitalization Community Corporation, a civic group in the northwest section of the town. “He’s picking up the leaves. Whether you’re 73 years old, or Santa Claus, or whoever you are, he’s going house to house and he’s sucking up all the leaves.”
Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said she also had heard reports that leaves were being picked up by Mr. Gregor’s department—adding confusion to an already complex program, she said.
“There’s no doubt,” she said. “People are confused. Some are not happy. But more than anything else, I think there’s confusion. Change is never easy, so that may be part of it. We’re not getting a lot of information from the Highway Department. But my understanding is they are picking up the loose leaves even though people are being directed to put them in the bags, but are being given a grace period here.”
Mr. Schaw said the apparent newest change to the program makes him wonder why residents had to spend money and time on purchasing biodegradable bags and bagging their leaves.
The program was changed this year in several ways. Mr. Gregor instituted a voucher system, and originally said it would require all town residents or their landscapers to register with the Highway Department in order to drop leaves off for free at the town’s transfer stations in Westhampton, North Sea and Hampton Bays. Days before the program launched on November 14, however, Mr. Gregor said there was a misunderstanding about the voucher system, and that only contractors would need a voucher to dump a resident’s leaves for free.
Residents can self-haul their leaves to the town’s transfer stations, free of charge.