Pickup of loose leaves may give way to bagging

Bagged leaves awaiting pickup last year in Southold. Riverhead Town is considering the same program, under which the biodegradable bags would be taken to the town’s Youngs Avenue waste facility and turned into free mulch for residents.

Riverhead Councilman Jim Wooten and town Highway Superintendent George Woodson are pushing to find an alternative to the pickup of loose leaves at curbsides.

And while board members do not agree on the issue, even those who favor continuing the pickup say the town might not be able to afford the pricey program. Some suggest the highway superintendent just make the decision himself.

“We’d like to phase out leaf collection in the Town of Riverhead,” Mr. Wooten, the Town Board liaison to the highway department, said at a public work session last Thursday. “We’d like to encourage residents to bag their leaves in brown bags, which the town would supply, at least in the first phase, free of charge.”

The brown bags for which he is advocating are biodegradeable paper bags, an approach Southold Town recently implemented. Unlike plastic bags, they can be shredded and turned into mulch without harming the environment.

Mr. Wooten said Maggio Sanitation, which holds the town’s garbage pickup contract, has offered to pick the bags up and take them to the town’s yard waste facility on Youngs Avenue, where they could be turned into mulch that could be made available to residents at no charge.

The town currently allows both bagged leaves, which are picked up by Maggio Sanitation, and curbside leaves, which are picked up by the highway department. The town does not provide biodegradable bags to residents. Officials say about half the town’s residents elect to use bags while the other half utilizes the curbside pickup.

“What we’d like to do is maybe not fully implement it now,” Mr. Woodson said of phasing out curbside pickup. “But, we really need to do something about leaf pickup. At least start the process of finding a better way.”

“It would encourage recycling, it keeps our drainage clean and our highways safer, and it would save somewhere around $200,000 to $250,000 a year.”

The councilman said he’d like to implement the bag system this year on a volunteer basis.

Councilman John Dunleavy also supports phasing into the bag system.

“I think it will help traffic flow, especially in outlying areas where the roads are narrow,” he said, also pointing out that leaves clog drains and make roads slippery when they’re wet. Mr. Dunleavy said he’d like to make both curbside pickup and brown bags available this year to see if residents respond to the program.

Councilman George Gabrielsen said he’s against eliminating curbside pickup.

“I’m against it, but the economy may be driving it,” he said.

Mr. Gabrielsen suggested using bags in areas where the town has received complaints about leaves in the road and curbside pickup in other areas.

“I’m in favor of curbside pickup, but we might not be able to afford it this year,” Supervisor Sean Walter said.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she believes the decision should be made by the highway department.

“He’s an elected official. It should be his call,” she said.

Mr. Walter, when told of Ms. Giglio’s comments, agreed that the decision should be up to the highway superintendent.

“It really is up to Gio,” he said, referring to Mr. Woodson by his nickname.

Officials have yet to decide what path to take.

In neighboring Southampton Town, Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor held several public forums on the leaf pickup issue early in the year but has yet to decide what to do.

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