Superintendent of Highways Scott King made a pitch to the East Hampton Town Board this week to change the town’s fall leaf pick-up policy so that homeowners will be required to bag all their leaves or take them to the town landfill themselves. The board appeared to be receptive and Supervisor McGintee said the topic would be considered by the board next week.
Mr. King told the board that he thinks the department could save as much as $400,000 a year in labor and machinery costs by requiring leaves to be bagged. He said the switch would also free up the bulk of his department’s 42 employees to focus on repairing roads and clearing storm drains in the last critical weeks of preparation for winter.
Typically, the entire highway department staff works on leaf pick-ups exclusively for about six weeks in November and December, plus 20 part-time hires brought in just for the leaf work, he said. The department spends more than $600,000 a year on the pick-up effort, according to Mr. King.
The town allows leaves to be deposited on roadsides, where they are vacuumed by crews with specially outfitted trucks. The leaf piles often spread onto the roadway, Mr. King said. Also, the department is regularly deluged with complaints from residents claiming that their leaves were not picked up. Additionally, Mr King said, the roadside pick-up arrangement is often abused by landscaping companies, which save time by not driving to the dump with their leaves.
“All we’re doing is increasing the bottom line of landscapers,” Mr. King said. “I’ve seen landscapers charge people to pick up [leaves] then go around the corner and dump them on the road.”
The solution, he said, is to start requiring any leaves left on the roadside to be placed in biodegradable paper bags. Bagging leaves is already required for any leaves put out in the spring.
Mr. King said that the work now done by 12 crews could be done by just two if bagging were required. A bagging program would drastically cut down on the number of leaves left on roadsides, he added, and would be a much less labor-intensive task to complete. Also, the town could sell the 12 vacuum machines it has now and use the money to purchase two garbage compacting trucks.
Most other towns in the area have switched to requiring leaves to be bagged, Mr. King said, though Southampton Town and Southampton Village have not. Mr. King said the town could sell the bags to homeowners at five for $1.
“For a pack of cigarettes, you can probably do your whole yard,” he said.
The bags are biodegradable and could be put in the mulching machine at the town landfill.
Town Supervisor Bill McGintee said that if the volume of leaves deposited at the landfill were reduced, the town could possibly use some of the 10 acres now dedicated to composting for other programs, such as a long discussed BMX track for bicycles.