Bio bag program is moving forward

09/30/2010 12:00 AM |

Highway Superintendent George Woodson has asked that bio-degradable
bags be made available this fall as another option for residents, because
he is trying to phase out curbside leaf collection.

Three town council members and two neighboring highway superintendents support Riverhead Highway Superintendent George Woodson’s proposal to eventually eliminate loose-leaf pickup at curbside and adopt biodegradable paper bags.
But Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, one of the two all-Republican Town Board members to oppose the proposal, threw a wrench into that plan prior to a Tuesday press conference Mr. Woodson was holding in Town Hall. The highway boss was set to announce a new pilot program using the paper bags.
Mr. Walter and Councilmen George Gabrielsen voted against a proposal to seek bids for biodegradable
paper leaf bags, a move that would be the first step in phasing out the
town’s curbside loose-leaf pickup program. But a vote to advertise for bids passed 3-2.
The supervisor told Mr. Woodson in the Town Hall meeting room that there is no money in the town budget to allow sanitation department workers to process the bagged leaves once they are brought to the yard waste facility. He said that unless Mr. Woodson’s own department was doing the work it couldn’t happen, since the highway budget and the town general fund, which includes sanitation, come from different tax bases.
The supervisor also said the town’s yard waste facility can only hold 3,500 cubic yards of leaves in one area, and another 3,500 cubic yards in another area, and that the leaf program would generate far more than that.
“He just doesn’t want to see this work,” Mr. Woodson muttered under his breath afterward.
Mr. Woodson later said, “We’ll make it work.”
The program has the support of council members John Dunleavy and Jim Wooten, and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio maintains that Mr. Woodson, an elected official and a Democrat, should be allowed to make highway department decisions on his own.
Ms. Giglio said she was told by town sanitation supervisor John Reeve that it would take a modification of the state permit to dispose of the bagged leaves at the town yard waste facility. Mr. Reeve said he was prepared to seek such a modification, she said. Mr. Woodson said he remained confident that he would find some place to take the leaves if the yard waste facility is not available. He suggested local nurseries.
Mr. Walter and Mr. Gabrielsen have opposed Mr. Woodson’s proposal to eventually eliminate loose leaf pickup.
“This means residents will get less services and more taxes to pay for them,” Mr. Gabrielsen said later in the day Tuesday, as he and Mr. Walter opposed a resolution to seek bids for biodegrable bags.
The highway superintendent introduced a pilot program for this year in which biodegradable paper bags would be distributed free to residents this fall, beginning in mid-October.
Residents would still have the option of putting their leaves on the curb. Pickup of all leaves will begin on Oct. 25 and take place every other week until the end of the year. A second pickup will take place in the spring.
Backing him up at his press conference were Southold Highway Superintendent Pete Harris, whose town has used the biodegradable bags for the past four years, and Southampton Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor, who said he eventually wants to allow only biodegradable bags, but will permit both the bags and curbside pickup this fall.
Mr. Harris said the bags make the leaf pickup quicker, they don’t blow all over the street or clog drainage basins, and they can be recycled as compost to be sold or given away. 
In Riverhead, residents can use the biodegradable bags, plastic bags or they can put their leaves at the curb this fall. But Mr. Woodson is hoping residents choose the paper bags, as he is trying to phase out the curbside leaf collection.
He says that program not only clogs drains, makes roads slippery when the leaves get wet and requires too much of his department’s time, taking away from other projects like road maintenance and installing snow fencing.
Mr. Woodson said many residents also abuse the program, putting items on the curb that shouldn’t be there. “We must find a better, more cost effective way of disposing of the leaves without overbearing the taxpayer,” Mr. Woodson said.
“I support [Mr. Woodson’s] efforts to try and save money and reduce leaf waste,” Mr. Walter said afterward. But, he added, the pilot program should be done just in a limited area, and he doesn’t think many residents will use the paper bags if they have the opportunity to put their leaves on the curb.
“So what scientific data are you gaining from that? I would say none,” Mr. Walter said.
He said the town currently takes the loose leaves to farmers who compost them and don’t charge the town anything.
Mr. Woodson said he believes the farmers will not be able to accept the loose leaves in the future, and that the town will have to pay to have them removed.
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