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Highway Superintendent renews call to stop picking up loose leaves in Riverhead

Should the town continue to pick up leaves at curbside?

That’s an issue Riverhead Highway Superintendent George Woodson has raised with the Town Board several times over the past year, but the two sides have yet to reach a verdict. Mr. Woodson, as he has done at least four times, presented the Town Board with a number of reasons last Thursday why his department should not pick up leaves at the curb as it has in the past. 

He has tried to get residents to put their leaves in biodegradable bags and leave the bags at the curb instead. 

“Loose leaf pickup is not a highway function and should be funded out of the general fund, according to David Orr of the Cornell University Education department,” Mr. Woodson said. “If it’s not a highway function, the highway department should be paid out of general fund” to pick up the leaves. This would mean the Town Board would pay the highway department to do so.

Mr. Woodson estimates that the loose leaf pickup costs the town about $250,000 per year. 

Another argument Mr. Woodson makes is that the town is running out of space for the leaves. The town has already exceeded the amount permitted in its debris area by 3,000 cubic yards, and the town faces a fine of $3,500 per day from the state, he said.

The state also won’t let the town dump leaves on its property on Manor Lane in Jamesport, and farmers, who used to take the leaves, have for the most part stopped doing so due to state restrictions, he said. 

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she received an email Friday from town engineer Drew Dillingham which said that the worst thing that can happen to the town if it consistently exceeds the 3,000-cubic-yard limit is that the facility will have to be registered with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and annual reports, along with periodic inspections, will be required. There is no cost to register, she said. Ms. Giglio said the town has been permitted to have 10,000 cubic yards of debris at its Youngs Avenue leaf disposal area. 

The registration was waived last year because the town had less than 1,000 cubic yards, she said. 

Ms. Giglio said the town attorney’s office also indicated that the town has never been fined $3,500 due to loose leaf pickup.

Mr. Woodson said that’s not what he was told. 

“See what other towns are doing and see if we can come up with a happy medium,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said. “We’re getting a lot of residents who want their leaves picked up at the curb. The town can’t just drop the program, she said. 

Mr. Woodson said that even if the town paid the highway department to do the leaf pickup, it’s running out of places to put the leaves. 

“People enjoy the service of leaf pickup,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent said. “But we have to make a decision.”

Mr. Woodson said enforcement is needed, because people hire landscapers to do their yards, who put the leaves on the curb for the town to take away. 

He said some have taken leaves from other towns and dropped them at the curb in Riverhead Town. 

He said that in November and December, his department is busy installing snow fencing and getting snow plows ready. 

“This is one of these hard decisions we have to make,” Ms. Kent said. “People want this, but if we can’t do it, we can’t do it.”

“Just put it up for a vote,” Ms. Giglio said. “Put up a resolution.” 

Ms. Kent said the board needs to have a plan before it can vote on it.

“We have to know what we’re voting on,” she said. 

“You take the lead,” Ms. Aguiar said to Ms. Kent. 

Councilman Frank Beyrodt, a farmer who used to take the town’s leaves in the past, said he would be willing to work on the issue as well. 

Councilman Tim Hubbard said that once the town hires two needed code enforcement officers, as planned, it will have enforcement out on weekends. 

Mr. Woodson said they’ll need to be out 24/7.

“It’s getting out of control,” he said. 

“My fear is that if we discontinue the loose leaf pickup, they are going to get dumped everywhere,” Ms. Giglio said.