07/08/15 12:00pm
07/08/2015 12:00 PM
(Credit: Chris Lisinski)

Beverly  Schmidt on one of her daily walks to pick up garbage along town roads. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)

If you drive down Tuthills Lane in Aquebogue during one of Beverly Schmidt’s twice-daily walks, you might mistake her for an exerciser: neon baseball cap, lean figure, quick stride.

And while she is certainly maintaining physical fitness on those walks — she totals seven miles per day — Ms. Schmidt has a greater goal: preserving the beauty of her street by picking up any and all litter she finds.

“I was outraged at the beauty of this place and how it’s defiled every single day,” she said. “I feel like I turned it from a road to be ashamed of to a road to be proud of.”

Eleven years after she began her efforts, the Riverhead Town Council declared Tuesday “Beverly Schmidt Day” in honor of the litter-cleaning crusader.

“Volunteers like Beverly Schmidt are a vital and positive force in our community,” Town Supervisor Sean Walter wrote in the proclamation. “I urge all of our citizens to join [her] in an effort to preserve the beauty and wonder of the lands, skies and water of the earth.”

Ms. Schmidt was motivated in part by tragedy: soon after she first moved onto Tuthills Lane, her golden retriever, Casey, swallowed a corncob that had been dumped in the road from one of the farms. Casey had surgery to remove the cob, but then quickly fell ill and died.

Once she got her next dog, Sophie, Ms. Schmidt began picking up trash during their walks together.

“I did it for the whole time I had Sophie, and she died in March 2014,” she said. “So I’ve continued to do it, and it makes me feel good that I can contribute and keep [the road] looking nice.”

Ms. Schmidt’s route forms a loop along both sides of Tuthills Lane: she begins at home, walks north to Church Lane, then back south all the way to Route 25 and finally home again. Each walk is about 3.5 miles, and she does one in the morning and one in the evening.

Ms. Schmidt walks at a brisk pace (stop to take her photo at your own risk — you’ll probably have to jog to catch up again). Mid-stride, she sweeps twigs and rocks out of the street, and she only halts to stoop and pick up trash.

She picks up about one plastic shopping bag of garbage each walk, and the most common pieces of refuse she finds are cigarette butts and beer cans.

“I say I have a pack-a-day habit because I pick up about 20 cigarette butts a day,” Ms. Schmidt said. “I’ve never been able to catch the guy who drops two Bud Light cans every single day, one going and one coming. Before work and after work, it must be.”

No unsightly object is safe from Ms. Schmidt’s quest. She prunes dandelions near the road since they are “bullies,” and she even throws away unused phone books and circulars.

“It is compulsive,” she said. “I know it is. But if I’ve got to have an addiction, it’s better than a lot of others.”

Beyond the aesthetics, Ms. Schmidt believes her routine has given her a more meaningful relationship with her community.

“The neighborhood is my social connection,” she said. “[Cleaning] has made me meet all of those people, which is great.”

And her neighbors have noticed her efforts, too.

“I’ve lived here since 1965, and she’s the first person that ever did that,” said Ron Schmitt, who lives just a few houses down from Ms. Schmidt. “She does it rain or shine — if it’s raining, she’s got a coat on, and if it’s nighttime, she’s got a big orange jacket.”

In fact, Mr. Schmitt was the person who recommended Ms. Schmidt for a town proclamation in the first place.

“I just thought that somebody should recognize the person that’s been doing this public service for this many years,” he said. “Nobody notices it.”

At the end of her morning walk on Tuesday, Ms. Schmidt returned home to a bottle of sparkling wine and a card in front of her backyard gate — a gift, she said, from neighbors to congratulate her on “Beverly Schmidt Day.”

Ms. Schmidt hopes she can motivate others to be proactive as well.

“I hope I’m an inspiration to other people,” she said. “It’s not like I’m doing it because I love it. I get satisfaction out of it, but who loves picking up junk?”

[email protected]

07/21/14 2:00pm
07/21/2014 2:00 PM
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Refuse in woods along Oak Avenue in Flanders.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Refuse in woods along Oak Avenue in Flanders.

Having seen too much illegal dumping over the years in the hamlets of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton, a proposal to create a garbage collection district will go to a public vote this fall among residents in the area.

The idea has been discussed by civic leaders in those hamlets for several years, as they feel it would eliminate the need to drop off trash on vacant lots in the area — while saving locals garbage costs of their own — if carting can be obtained for a reasonable price.

“It is a community that has a large rental population — the homes are very tight together on small lots. But we also have a community in a socio-economic position where a lot of people are looking for alternative methods for disposing their waste, and that does not include taking it to the dump or having a private carter, but actually placing it somewhere that it doesn’t belong,” said Councilman Brad Bender, who lives in Northampton.

Mr. Bender, a former president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association was elected last fall in his second bid for Southampton Town Board.  The Town Board discussed the issue at its July 10 work session.

While the creation of a garbage district normally is subject to a permissive referendum, in which a petition signed by a certain percent of the voters could force a referendum, Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said the Town Board plans to have a mandatory referendum on the issue. The town offered residents the same option when it created beach erosion control districts in Bridghampton, Sagaponack and Hampton Bays.

“This way, there was no gray area in terms of people having the ability to be heard on this,” said Ms. Throne-Holst.

But before a vote, the town will first gather bids from commercial garbage carters in order to get an idea of what it will cost to have a garbage district in the three hamlets, according to assistant town attorney Kathleen Murray. They also will have a public hearing on the proposal before the fall vote.

Vince Taldone, the current president of FRNCA, said at the meeting that about 80 percent of residents in the hamlets currently pay for private carting, coming at a cost of about $40 per month.

By comparison, residents in Riverhead’s six different garbage districts pay on average about $250 per year, said Christine Fetten, Southampton’s director of facilities management.

The referendum for the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton garbage district would be a vote amongst residents in just those three hamlets — not from the entire town. The boundaries of the proposed district would be the same as those of the Flanders Northampton Volunteer Ambulance, which covers those three hamlets.

While neighboring Riverhead Town has had garbage districts for years, Southampton Town doesn’t have any garbage districts, in which residents pay a special tax and have their garbage and recyclables picked up at curbside.

Southampton Town currently requires residents to buy green town garbage bags that are required for self-haulers to dispose of their garbage at town transfer stations. Recyclable items can be disposed of for free at the transfer stations.

There are transfer stations in Hampton Bays, Westhampton, North Sea and Bridgehampton. Residents also can contract with private garbage carters.

Putting Flanders, Riverside and Northampton into a separate garbage district would reduce the amount of revenue the town receives from self-haulers in those areas by about $63,000 per year, officials said.

However Mr. Taldone pointed out that money would also be saved, though it would be tough to quantify — and savings wouldn’t necessarily come from the town’s facilities management department.

For instance, the town highway department last fall cleaned up piles of discarded televisions, yard waste, construction debris, clothing and other items from a lot in Riverside. Those clean-ups would be reduced, though not wiped out entirely.

“I believe this garbage district will greatly reduce the amount of illegal dumping there is, but to entirely eliminate it is a different story,” said Ms. Fetten.

The proposed Flanders, Riverside and Northampton district will likely be just for residential trash, officials said. Slightly over 2,000 homes would be affected.

Mr. Bender said the proposal would have a “single stream” recycling program, in which residents put all of their recyclable containers, paper and cardboard into one container at the curbside on designated recycling days, rather than putting each into separate containers.

02/11/14 11:17am
02/11/2014 11:17 AM

Refuse in woods along Oak Avenue in Flanders from 2012. Civic leaders say all the open space and parkland in the tri-hamlet area make it easy for people to dump. (Tim Gannon file photo)

The Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association adopted a resolution Monday asking Southampton Town to create a garbage district for its three hamlets. (more…)