Woodson wants bags required for leaves

George ‘Gio’ Woodson
Riverhead Town highway superintendent

Riverhead Highway Superintendent George “Gio” Woodson listed a slew of reasons this week why phasing out annual curbside pickup of loose leaves would be good for the town — and added he’ll need the full support of the Town Board to do it.

The all-Republican board appears divided on the subject, but has agreed that the decision is all up to Mr. Woodson — an elected official and a Democrat — not them.

Among his reasonsfor switching over to pickup for bagged leaves only were that it would be cheaper and more environmentally friendly. But he said he was willing to explore other options for reducing the expense of loose leaf pickup if he couldn’t get the five town board members to agree with him.

“I try to work as a team,” he said.

Mr. Woodson also said a bagging system would lighten the workloads of the town’s 32 highway workers, who he said are busy preparing for winter and cleaning drainage basins during the fall. “When we had 45 people, that was fine,” he said. “Now you have 32 trying to do the same amount of work.”

Mr. Woodson said residents of neighboring Brookhaven Town have been known to dump their leaves at the homes of friends in Riverhead, putting an additional burden on town highway workers. He also said that local nurseries, which take the town’s leaves for shredding at no cost, could decide to stop doing so in the future, leaving the town to find a way to dispose of them that might prove costly.

He also noted that loose leaves left curbside can clog up storm drains, including town sumps.

Mr. Woodson said the biggest asset of the new bagging program would be the money it would save his department in labor costs.

“If you go from $300,000 down to $50,000” in annual leaf costs, “isn’t that good?” he said.

The brown leaf bags he wants residents to use would be made of biodegradeable paper, like those now used in Southold Town. Unlike plastic bags, they can be shredded and turned into mulch without leaving plastic in the environment.

The town currently allows both bagged leaves, collected by Maggio Sanitation, which contracts with the town, and curbside leaves, which are picked up by the highway department. The town does not provide biodegradable bags to residents. Mr. Woodson said the town would supply the bags in the first phase free of charge. Officials say about half the town’s residents use bags while the other half opt for curbside pickup.

But the Town Board remains split on what to do, a fact that might force Mr. Woodson to explore other options.

Earlier this month, town councilmen John Dunleavy and Jim Wooten said they favored eliminating the curbside pickup program.

Supervisor Sean Walter repeated his stance against phasing out pickup of loose leaves but left the final call up to Mr. Woddson. However, he did express concern that the new project could cost upward of $100,000.

“It’s not really our decision,” he added.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said earlier this month, and reiterated this week, that the matter is Mr. Woodson’s decision and declined to give her opinion. “Gio was elected to oversee the budget of the Highway Department, therefore it is his decision,” she said in an e-mail.

Councilman George Gabrielsen said he would favor a partial phasing in of an all-bag leaf program in some parts of town the first year before full implementation.

“The first year, we can’t just throw ourselves into this,” he said, adding that the decision to phase out curbside pickup is driven by the down economy, which has reduced town revenues and prompted it to look for ways to cut cost.

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