Leaf bags might be required

Will curbside leaf pickup become a thing of the past in Riverhead unless residents collect their leaves in bags?

Maggio Sanitation, whose garbage carting contract with the town is up for renewal, has proposed taking over the entire leaf pickup operation in the town, relieving the town highway department of that responsibility and saving the town labor and equipment costs.

Company president Vinny Maggio told the Town Board at its Thursday work session that his company would either give or sell — depending on what the town wants — paper leaf bags to residents, similar to what is done in Southold Town.

Residents would collect their leaves in the paper bags and leave the bags at the curb, instead of piles of loose leaves. Maggio would collect the bags and dump the leaves at the town’s yard waste facility on Youngs Avenue in Calverton, where they would be composted to make topsoil.

Mr. Maggio is proposing to pick up the leaves for four weeks in April and four weeks in November. Unlike plastic bags, the paper bags could be shredded and dumped with the leaves, he said.

Currently, about half the town’s residents place their leaves in their own plastic bags, which are picked up along with bulk items by Maggio; the rest pile their leaves loose at the curb, officials said. Highway Superintendent George Woodson said it costs about $400,000 in man hours townwide to pick up leaves left at the curb, and it takes about four or five weeks to get the job done.

In addition, Mr. Woodson said, leaves are now falling later in the season than in the past, and picking them up interferes with his department’s effort to install snow fencing and prepare its snowplows for winter. The leaves also clog drains and contribute to flooding, he said.

“We don’t have the personnel we used to have here,” Mr. Woodson said.

The idea of doing away with curbside pickup of loose leaves will likely meet with opposition from some residents, including the town supervisor.

“This is important to me, I like my leaves at the curb,” Supervisor Sean Walter said.

But Councilman Jim Wooten said putting leaves on the curb narrows roadways and clogs drains.

“It seems like the west part of the town likes the bag pickup and east likes curbside pickup,” Councilman George Gabrielsen said.

Councilman John Dunleavy said a lot of older residents find it easier to just rake the leaves to the curb. But Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said some residents prefer to bag leaves because then they won’t blow back on their property. Mr. Walter said that’s the minority.

“If I bag my leaves, and you rake them, and a wind comes and your leaves blow on my yard, that gets me aggravated,” Mr. Dunleavy said.

“You’ve hit the third rail of garbage in Riverhead,” Mr. Walter said.

As with neighboring Southampton, Riverhead Town has been looking into options to cut leaf pickup costs, but it hasn’t decided on any one plan yet, Mr. Woodson said, adding that the town probably will try to implement any new procedure over a couple of years, instead of all at once. Riverhead, Southampton and East Hampton are the only Suffolk towns that still do curbside leaf pickup, though some villages also do so. East Hampton officials have been pushing, unsuccessfully so far, for an all-bagging program to raise revenue from the sale of bags and to cut down on the hours highway crews must spend collecting loose leaves.

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