Leaf Program Leaves Landfills in the Dumps

Posted on 26 October 2011

By Claire Walla

The Southampton Town leaf pick-up program has changed this fall in an attempt to streamline and speed up the whole process. But Southampton Town Board members now worry that the new program may put a strain on another town department.

“It seems the costs are being shifted,” said Councilwoman Bridget Fleming at a meeting last Friday, October 21. “That’s why I called this work session.”

Board members heard from the town’s Director of Facilities Management, Christine Fetten, who expressed concern that this year’s leaf pick-up program would create more work for her employees.

In an attempt to make the leaf pick-up process more efficient in the fall, Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor created a program that eliminates brush from the fall pick-up routine. Instead, residents will be issued vouchers that will allow them to bring sticks and small branches to one of three town service stations in Westhampton, Hampton Bays and North Sea. Residents will still be able to put their leaves by the side of the road for pick up, but they will be required to bundle them into town provided paper bags, rather than leave them in loose as has been done in years past.

With more residents and private carters bringing brush and loose leaves to the town’s waste disposal facilities, Fetten said employees at each site will need to spend more time monitoring these drop-offs. Employees will also have to physically hall the materials left by residents and private landscapers from the drop-off site to the compost pile site at the back of the facility. (Only town employees are permitted on site.) This, she said, will require more workers.

So far, Fetten said she already expects to see about a 176-hour shortfall of man-hours each week. While she said her department wouldn’t be forced to hire any more full-time employees, it will have to dip into the emergency funds set aside for part-time hirees.

“We’ve never tackled this kind of a program before,” Fetten said on Friday. “One of our great concerns is we have a limited number of payloaders, and they’ve been operating non-stop since [Tropical Storm Irene].”

In an interview on Monday, Fetten further explained that her department will try to work with the vehicles it has on hand, and will only resort to leasing a more powerful yard truck should the work load demand it.

The other obstacle comes by way of the paper bags residents will be required to use to gather leaves.

“In order to make this an effective program — for which these bags are composted — you have to water them,” Fetten continued.

Bio-degradable paper bags are being required this year because Gregor — who couldn’t make it to last Friday’s meeting and was unavailable this week for comment — has previously explained that using bags will quicken the collection process for highway department personnel.

But Fetten said the durability of these two-ply paper bags makes them difficult to compost without extra manpower. While she said it’s “not totally improbable” to use water at the service stations to break down the bags, it would be problematic.

In a meeting with the highway superintendent earlier this month — shortly after she learned the details of the new leaf pick-up program —Fetten said she requested that highway department personnel physically rip the bags open when the leaves are taken to the service station. She said the processors on site may not otherwise be powerful enough to break the paper bags down. As of this week, Fetten said she has yet to revisit the issue with Gregor.

“We really didn’t anticipate this,” Fetten continued. “ But I believe that we might be able to work certain things around … We might have to dip more into our over-time or part-time budgets, but I think we’ll be able to manage [the work load] within the budget we have right now.”

Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst expressed concern that Fetten may have to dip into monies that have been set aside for emergencies, when the department is forced to take on extra labor: like during last year’s excess of snow storms and this year’s Tropical Storm Irene.

“The loose-leaf program that was proposed [in years past] seemed to work very well,” she added, but “at this point, it would be too late to modify the information that’s been submitted to the public.”

In addition to a leaf forum Gregor held last spring, fliers about this year’s fall program have already been distributed.

Fetten continued, “I don’t know how to make the program better at this point.”

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