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With ‘Spring Cleanup’ set for Saturday, organizer hopes for a more permanent solution to addressing litter problem

Close to 150 volunteers are expected to take part in Saturday’s “Spring Cleanup,” sponsored by Riverhead’s anti-litter committee.

But Deborah Wetzel, the chair of the committee, is hoping to have a more permanent cleanup presence in the town beyond the two annual cleanups. 

Ms. Wetzel said they did two cleanups in 2019, with the spring cleanup drawing 40 volunteers and the fall cleanup drawing about 85 people. (There was no cleanup day in 2020 due to COVID-19.)

Working with Councilwoman Catherine Kent, they issued a press release and reached out to local media, as well as to the Riverhead Business Improvement District and the town’s environmental committee, Ms. Wetzel said. 

The committee also reached out to George Eldi, the owner of Wines by Nature in Wading River. Mr. Eldi has organized cleanups in Brookhaven and Riverhead towns that have attracted more than 400 volunteers, she said. 

People are “very passionate” about the litter problem, Ms. Wetzel said. 

“I can’t tell you the amount of emails I’m getting from volunteers who are very upset about the amount of litter in town,” she said. “They really want to do something about it.

“It’s really sad to see so much litter,” she added. “I drive around town and just shake my head. I think this problem negatively impacts our town image.”

She said the north-south roads that run from Main Street to Sound Avenue “are a disaster” and Osborn and Roanoke Avenues are among the worst. 

The area between Target and CVS on Route 58 “has been like that forever,” she said. 

“It’s really disheartening to see how bad it looks,” Ms. Kent said. 

“It’s one thing to have these big events, but the cleanup has to be ongoing,” Ms. Wetzel said.

She said she needs support from the Town Board to accomplish her goal of regular cleanups.

“Especially when it comes to enforcement,” she said. “And we’re going to need need financial support for our supplies.”

Richard Downs, who heads the town’s code enforcement office, said that when his department gets complaints about litter, they generally send out a notice of complaint to the property owner. They have five days to respond saying they are remediating the problem. The tickets are always sent to the owners of the property, which is usually an LLC or a corporation. 

The tickets or violations then go before the town justice court. 

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said the town also needed to increase the fines for litter violations. She said the town’s fines are often only half of what other towns charge. 

“We have to hit them in the pockets,” she said. 

Among the participants Saturday are the local Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, the Butterfly Effect Project, the Riverhead Business Improvement District, Target, the Jamesport Civic Association, the Riverhead High School Key Club and First National Bank among others, Ms. Wetzel said.

“It’s really gratifying to me that so many people are concerned about the problem of litter,” she said. “We have more than 35 streets, parks and beaches that are filled with litter. That’s gonna be our target locations.”

Gloves, pickers, trash bags, masks and other equipment will be distributed on Friday at Riverhead Town Hall and at Wines By Nature, located at 5768 Route 25A in Wading River, Suite I, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., and on Saturday from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. at Riverhead Town Hall.