By Claire Walla
For many, one of the benefits to living in Southampton Town is that, come fall, when nature’s dead weight begins to blanket the earth, the town’s highway department will come to the rescue. Residents have traditionally been able to pile leaves along the side of the road in preparation for highway department personnel, who swoop by in a garbage truck and suck-up the lifeless debris.
This year, however, Southampton Town’s Leaf Pick-up Program will be a little different.
Though the leaf program will not be entirely discontinued, Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor hopes curbside pick-up will be greatly reduced. The superintendent will introduce a voucher program this year, through which residents will be allowed to dump up to eight yards of leaf waste at one of several transfer stations that will be set-up near each hamlet and residential district within the town. There will be two locations in Noyac, two in Bridgehampton and one in North Sea.
“What we’re trying to do is end the practice of landscapers indiscriminately dropping leaves on the side of the highway,” Gregor said.
He noted that illegal dumping increased about four or five years ago when landscapers were barred from dumping leaves for free at town transfer stations. Instead of paying fees, Gregor explained, many landscapers began leaving loose piles even in non-residential areas in Southampton Town. (All leaves are required to be left curbside directly in front of the residence from which they came.)
Especially this past year — after East Hampton Town officials eliminated leaf pick-up service entirely — Gregor explained there’s been an influx of illegal dumping of leaves in Southampton Town. He said the problem is prevalent in areas close to the town line in Wainscott and Bridgehampton, primarily along sections of Sagg Main.
“It’s a safety problem,” Gregor continued, explaining that this year oversized piles of leaves created notable road hazards for cyclists, school buses and snow plows, which at times found no place to leave excess snow. Plus, he added, “we’re trying to keep the drains clean.”
Residents who are 73 years of age or older and those with special needs would be able to dispose of loose leaves in front of their properties as before.
All other residents who decide not to participate in the voucher program will be required to place leaves in brown paper bags (available for purchase through the highway department or at Loews) before leaving them by the side of the road for pick-up. Highway department employees will still make one round through all residential areas of the town in order to pick-up the bags. Loose leaves will be passed over, as will twigs and brush, which were also left uncollected this year.
“I’m trying to encourage people to take advantage of the voucher program,” he said.
“I know it’s not a popular thing, but I have to look out for the general welfare of the people who use the roads,” Gregor continued. “It’s a no-win situation because there’s nothing you can do to make everyone happy.”
This year the leaf pick-up program cost about $1.2 million and the town collectively generated almost 50,000 yards of leaves and brush.
Gregor argued that with about eight employees for each of the six highway districts under his jurisdiction, “the amount of leaves and the amount of homes is just overwhelming.”
Despite being forced to downsize the program, Gregor is requesting $750,000 from the town to bolster the leaf program, money that — if obtained — would actually make it possible for the highway department to reinstate loose-leaf pick-up. This would be used to hire up to 23 part-time employees for the pick-up program and the purchase of 12 garbage compactors (two per district), which can collect a significant amount of leaves — more at one time than the garbage trucks the town currently uses.
“The only way [too keep the leaf program as is] is to really hit it hard with a lot of equipment and a lot of man power,” Gregor said.
However, Gregor said a town board resolution would need to be passed before the end of this month in order to make this a ballot initiative in November. He has yet to hear back from any members of the town board.