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Town will allow loose leaf pickup this year, but questions remain

After four meetings on the subject dating back to February, the Riverhead Town Board finally reached a decision on what to do about curbside loose leaf pickup.

Or did they?

Town Board members said they would not discontinue the practice of picking up loose leaves on the curbside this year, because it’s too late in the season to make the change now. They indicated that the practice may be discontinued next year.

But Highway Superintendent George “Gio” Woodson, who has opposed the practice, said the Town Board will still need to answer two questions: how will they pay for it, and where will the leaves be taken to?

Mr. Woodson has said it costs the town about $250,000 per year to pick up loose leaves on the curb, and he has said that other towns have discontinued the practice because it is not a highway department function and should be funded out of the town General Fund. 

Mr. Woodson has gone before the Town Board four times this year on that issue and the Town Board has yet to make a decision. 

“We know that this is a difficult topic and we have discussed this on many occasions,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said at Thursday’s work session. “In the last week, we’ve received 15 calls to my office about asking if we’re doing leaf pickup. Hopefully after today, we’re going to resolve this issue. 

“The residents of Riverhead deserve to have an answer. It is Oct. 1.”

Board members did agree to not discontinue the program this year, and to begin working on a solution for next year. 

But the discussion ended without Town Board members having an answer to the questions of how to pay for it, and where to dump the leaves. 

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said they should contact the state Department of Environmental Conservation and see if it can get additional capacity to throw the leaves at its Youngs Avenue yard waste facility. She also suggested asking if Crown Sanitation, which is located across the street from the town facility, has capacity. 

Councilman Tim Hubbard suggested giving our biodegradable leaf bags to residents, who could then put the bags out on the curb for their garbage carters to pick up in their weekly garbage pickup. Residents pay for garbage collection through their taxes. 

“I don’t see us going further than this year with leaf pickup,” Mr. Hubbard said. 

Ms. Giglio said the town’s garbage carter is already having difficulty because there is no longer a market for recyclable materials. She said that the additional cost of the carters pickup up the leaves would probably be able the same as what it cost for the highway department to do it. 

Councilman Frank Beyrodt said the town should continue to allow senior citizens to put their loose leaves on the curb, something Southampton Town does. 

He doesn’t support ending the program this year.

“People need time to adjust,” he said. 

“That’s why I brought this up in February,” Mr. Woodson said. 

Mr. Woodson said the leaf pickup program was implemented years ago when the town had only about 15,000 to 20,000 people and it was meant for residents. He said on Sundays mornings, he now sees “10 to 15 landscapers” putting leaves the raked for a customer on the curb for the town to pick up. 

Mr. Beyrodt, a former president of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said he will reach out to farmers to see if any of them want to take some of the leaves for mulch. 

Officials said they also will contact the DEC and Crown Sanitation.