Bagging leaves gets trial run in East Hampton

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Patricia Breen had it easy. She had a special rake purchased on a home shopping television network and two teenagers to help her stuff leaves into tall brown paper sacks.

“It’s definitely a two-person job,” Ms. Breen said of her family’s experiment last weekend with bagging their leaves in the decomposable bags provided by the town, rather than dumping them on the roadsides or in the woods. “I have this great rake, that made it a lot easier. You just pick them up and it fits right into the bag.”

On the first dry weekend since the bulk of the autumn leaves fell, many East Hamptonites like Ms. Breen and her children spent this past weekend raking or blowing leaves from their lawns and gardens. A couple dozen residents took part in an experimental bagging effort that Highway Superintendent Scott King hopes is the future of leaf removal in East Hampton. He says it would save the town many thousands of dollars.

Reviews of the bagging experiment were largely positive.

“It took me a little bit longer than raking them onto a tarp and hauling it out to the street,” said Fred Overton, the town clerk, who lives on a quarter-acre lot in Springs. “You get a lot more leaves in those bags than I thought you would.”

Amid the financial crisis in the town and nationwide, Mr. King’s call for cutting costs by asking residents to bag their leaves has earned a bit more traction than similar pleas by past Highway Department heads. Mr. King has said that not having to pick up loose leaves could cut the $600,000 cost of the annual town leaf pickup by at least half.

Rather than forcing residents to bag leaves this fall, the Town Board asked Mr. King to help residents experiment with the leaf bagging effort this year, just to gauge how well it would work. The Highway Department gave any resident who requested them a dozen of the biodegradable paper sacks, each about three feet high. The bags for the experiment were free but Mr. King said that if the program went townwide the town would probably charge about 20 cents for each bag.

Mr. Overton, 62, said the 12 bags he filled took all the leaves from the back half of his property. If he had mulched them with a lawnmower as they fell, as he did in the front yard, he guessed he could have bagged all the leaves from his entire property.

Seth Redlus, the executive director of LTV, said that after mulching the leaves on his half-acre in Northwest, he used only three of the bags he was given and found that stuffing the bags full was easier than he had expected.

“At first it seems a little inefficient because you’re putting in handfuls one at a time but it actually goes pretty fast,” Mr. Redlus said. “In the end, I found it easier than putting them on a tarp and hauling them into the woods. The bags are fantastic. They’re very strong and they hold a lot more than you would think if you crush them down.”

Mr. King has said that switching to leaf bagging would eliminate a lot of work for the town, which hires about 20 part-time employees just for the leaf pickup effort. The bagging requirement would stop landscaping companies from dumping leaves on roadsides to be picked up at taxpayers’ expense, rather than taking them to the dump themselves, he has said.

Indeed, on Sunday afternoon, two men were raking an enormous pile of leaves out the back of a pickup truck onto Pantigo Road. They had removed the leaves from the back of an adjacent property.

Still, Town Board members have been reluctant to halt the town leaf pickup program. Councilwoman Pat Mansir said recently that it is the “one thing the town does for residents that they can see happening for their tax dollars.”

Not all of those who experimented with the bags this fall were entirely satisfied with them. Montauk resident Bob Mulligan said the bags were too small.

“To be very honest with you, I did not like the bags,” Mr. Mulligan, 70, said. “They don’t hold enough. I think it’s a waste of time and money. I have large ones that I buy to make fewer trips to the dump. But bagging is definitely doable, I always do it—15 years out here and 30 years in Huntington—there they give you these huge plastic bags.”

Ms. Breen said that she and her two children, Reilly and Ted, filled 16 of the bags on Sunday morning with the leaves from their quarter-acre plot in Springs. She said they determined each bag will hold a pile of leaves that is about four feet in diameter and three feet high.

“It was a lot more than I expected,” she said. “My only complaint was that I should have done it the week before. It was cold.”

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