Southampton Town residents seem to be split down the middle in regard to their opinions on how the municipality handles leaf collection—some, mainly seniors, do not want to see the program changed, while other citizens want it abolished.
Those disparate points of view were what Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor sought to hear at two forums he held on the policy. He told the audiences at the Hampton Bays Middle School on March 24 and at The Bridge golf course in Noyac on Saturday that he had no plan or agenda going into the forums, although he has pointed out Southold Town’s policy, which requires residents to put leaves in paper bags, as a possible model.
The paper bag proposal, however, provoked complaints from the town’s senior citizens, who said that they cannot rake the leaves into bags, and do not want to pay landscapers upward of $200 to do the job.
Margaret Riebel, who attended the forum in Hampton Bays, explained that seniors may have to go without eating if they have to hire landscapers to clear their property.
Alva Hellstrom, an attendee of the Noyac forum, said that paper bags lining the streets could possibly be more unsightly than piles of leaves.
Vouchers—slips of paper that residents would present at transfer stations in order to dump a specified amount of leaves and small brush—was another idea vetted at the sessions. Mr. Gregor has explained that he would look into that idea, too.
At the end of the forum held at The Bridge, Mr. Gregor told the audience that he will go over all of the criticisms and suggestions he heard, as well as look over the 12-question questionnaires he handed out, and devise a new, hopefully improved policy. Then, he said, he will go before the Town Board with the changes, most likely have another forum or public hearing and then implement the new policy by the fall 2010 cleanup period. The regular spring pickup, which takes the town about four weeks to complete, is scheduled to begin on April 19, Mr. Gregor said.
The town has had the same policy on collecting leaves and brush for the past 20 years, Mr. Gregor explained. The current policy permits residents to place leaves and brush up to 6 inches in diameter on their property along 450 miles of town-owned roads and 650 private roads of various lengths in both the fall and spring. The town then comes by with either a payloader or leaf vacuum truck and removes the leaves.
Mr. Gregor said that the leaf pickup program—a service the Highway Department is not required to offer—costs about $1.3 million per year, including staff pay and benefits for the time during which they’re collecting leaves. As part of a “charge-back” program implemented last year, the department also has to pay upward of $350,000 to the Department of Municipal Facilities and Engineering, which oversees the transfer station, to dispose of the leaves.
“You can’t cripple one department to prop up another,” Mr. Gregor said about the charge-back, which helps fund the transfer stations.
That fee, and the others associated with the cleanup, make the program untenable, he explained.
Before the Hampton Bays session, Marie DePaula of Pine Neck Landing in East Quogue said that Mr. Gregor should either require that the leaves be bagged or abandon the program.
“My first choice is that they do away with the program,” she said, adding that landscapers typically dump piles and piles of leaves along Head of Lots Road in East Quogue each year.
That practice—which is considered illegal dumping—is one that especially irks Mr. Gregor. He has explained that it is very difficult to stop this practice, as people have to catch the contractors in the act and call the police.
East Hampton Town is the only other town in Suffolk County that picks up loose leaves and brush, said Vincent Galdiero, the president of Pavement Services Inc. in Smithtown, and town officials there are considering eliminating the service. Before the question-and-answer sessions at both forums, Mr. Galdiero went through the policies of other Suffolk towns and said that Shelter Island does not pick up its residents’ leaves and all others require that the leaves be bagged. Some towns, like Brookhaven, have private carters who bid on picking up the leaves, and others have the highway department itself pick up the remnants, Mr. Galdiero explained.
John Christiansen, an attendee at the Hampton Bays forum, said that he sees the bag option as an opportunity for highway employees to hurt their backs, and also questioned who would oversee the voucher program. Mr. Gregor did not respond directly to Mr. Christiansen.
Aline Griffin, who went to the forum in Noyac, voiced her support for the voucher program.
“There are a number of places on Cobb Road with huge piles—it’s disgraceful. I like the idea of the voucher,” she said.
Another woman, Lilarety Green, took the green approach, explaining that leaves do not have to be meticulously raked from one end of a yard to another. She explained that the leaves will decompose and become a part of the soil. Stephanie Davis, a member of the Remsenburg Association, agreed with Ms. Green, and said that she allows some leaves to stay on her property.