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Highway superintendent seeks independent arbiter to settle dispute on loose leaf pickup

Even as the administration changes in the Riverhead Town Highway Department, the debate over picking up loose leaves at the curbside continues.

Mike Zaleski was elected highway superintendent last fall when then-incumbent George “Gio” Woodson opted not to run for reelection. 

Mr. Woodson frequently argued with the Town Board about the issue of having the highway department pick up loose leaves placed in front of people’s homes. 

Mr. Zaleski, who had been the deputy highway superintendent under Mr. Woodson, has a similar opinion on the issue. He agreed to pick up the loose leaves in January, but he also wanted the town to get an opinion from an independent arbiter, such as the state comptroller or the attorney general. He said he had an agreement with Town Board members to send a letter seeking the independent arbiter.

The letter would be signed jointly, he said.  

To date, that letter has not yet been sent.  Deputy Town attorney Annemarie Prudenti said she is working on a draft. 

“I don’t feel that picking up leaves from people’s residences is part of the duties of the Riverhead Highway Department,” Mr. Zaleski told the board at Thursday’s work session. 

Highway superintendent Mike Zaleski addressed the Town Board at Thursday’s work session. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Town Board members, for the most part, want to keep providing the service. 

In December, Mr. Zaleski had agreed to pick up the leaves. He said it costs his department between $250,000 and $300,000 to pick up loose leaves. The endeavor also takes a month to complete. He feels loose leaf pickup at curbside is a “privilege,” and that most towns no longer provide it. 

Residents can also put their leaves in brown biodegradable bags and they will be picked up by their garbage carter, officials said.

Councilman Tim Hubbard said he favors continuing loose leaf pickup. 

“$250,000 to $300,000 is not going to break their backs,” he said.