Southampton Town is considering an amendment to the town code that would fine residents who leave leaves, brush and other debris within the public’s right of way.
The amendment to the town’s property maintenance law was aired at Tuesday night’s Town Board meeting, where board members, residents and Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor said that heaps of dead leaves, especially on the roadway, have caused problems.
This year, those who violate the code will get a notice of violation at first.
Starting in 2015, a notice would be followed up with code enforcement officers and then, if compliance is not met, the perpetrator would be given a written violation.
A first offense fine could be up to $1,000, 15 days in jail, or both, and a second offense could earn a fine of anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000, six months in jail, or both.
Town Councilman Brad Bender, who introduced the amendment, said there would also be a surcharge of $100. He said last year, the Town Board introduced a program in which such fines go into a “blight mitigation fund” so that the town can “clean up other things,” and “we’re paying with fine money instead of taxpayer money.”
Mr. Bender said the proposed amendment stemmed from complaints he received since he taking office. They began in 2009 and 2010, when Mr. Gregor enacted the town leaf pickup program, in which residents put their leaves in biodegradable paper bags to be picked up by town highway workers.
Mr. Bender said the town has saved $5.3 million since switching from a loose leaf pickup, and that the program costs the town only $434,000 each year to carry out—a difference from $1.5 million in 2009 when it started.
Mr. Gregor said the percentage of compliance has gone up to about 90 percent, but that some landscapers are still dumping leaves and debris, causing problems with snowplowing and getting children onto school buses safely. He said dumped leaves have also clogged roadways, especially in the Noyac and Pine Neck areas.
“Code enforcement had nothing it could actually use as a tool to protect the safety of schoolchildren, keep the storm drains from getting clogged, the leaves from around fire hydrants and slipping, sliding vehicles,” he said. “All of the issues were there, but there was no way to bring people into compliance.”
He said the law will also apply to other junk and debris left on the public’s right of way.
Mr. Gregor said in 2012, there were 121 cases of reported illegal dumping, from construction debris to refrigerators and junk. In 2013, the town had 110 cases of illegal dumping.
He added that in 2012 there were 10 evictions they had to clean up, like a 71-foot trailer someone left on side of the road.
Quiogue resident George Lynch said when he looks on his street, it’s apparent that there is a need for fines.
“People on my street are not stupid, and the cleanup rules aren’t all that difficult,” Mr. Lynch said about mounds of leaves left on his road. “Much of the confusion is willful or negligent. People just choose not to understand or bother to understand [the program]. Nothing clears up confusion like the prospect of paying a fine.”
The Town Board voted to keep the proposal open for written comment for 10 days.
Southampton Town will not accept wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The mining process, which uses pressurized liquid—typically water mixed with sand and chemicals—to fracture shale and extract natural gas, is a controversial practice that is said to pollute the environment. Some of the chemicals found in the wastewater created by “fracking” could be radioactive, town officials said, and the state now allows the use of the wastewater to be used as de-icer for roads since it contains brine. That runoff could be detrimental to the health of the East End’s waters.
On Tuesday, the board voted to prohibit the purchase or acceptance of waste associated with natural gas extraction because of the potentially toxic nature of such material.
The move was applauded by Southampton residents and environmentalists.
“The industry is absolutely desperate to get rid of it,” said Remsenburg resident Marge Schab. “We cannot afford to have our water infringed. It would put the town at such risk by accepting this environmental waste. It’s their problem. I don’t want to make it our problem.”
Mr. Lynch again voiced his support. He said even though someone might be sympathetic to the idea of fracking, they certainly wouldn’t be receptive to taking waste from someone else’s industrial process.
“The Town Highway Department has never used it and does not contemplate doing so, but we may not always have the enlightened leadership we have now,” he said. “A local law is a good idea.”
Mr. Gregor said the Highway Department hasn’t used wastewater and has been trying to reduce the amount of saltwater it uses on roads for snow removal.
“We use sand as well to reduce the impact of salt on the bay,” he said. “We use one bucket of salt to three buckets of sand.”
He warned the town, however, that even though the town hasn’t been approached by fracking companies that want to dump wastewater, it could happen in the future.
“Bridges separate us from rest of world. It’s never profitable to send the liquid here,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll see it here, but you shouldn’t let your guard down.”
The Town Board is also considering a law that would require certain offenders to pay a water quality protection surcharge.
Those who are found guilty of harming Southampton’s beaches, parks and waterways would have to pay not only a fine of $500 to $1,000, but also a $100 surcharge that would be put toward the town’s Water Quality Protection Fund.
Subsequent offenses would not be subject to the surcharge.
The Town Board will have another public hearing on a proposal to increase fines for damage done to the aquifer protection overlay district and to add a surcharge will also be up for debate.
A first offense would be punishable with up to $12,000 or 15 days in jail, or both, and a $100 surcharge. A second offense within an 18-month period would warrant a fine between $10,000 and $20,000 and or one year in jail, or both.
The public hearings will take place on May 13 at 1 p.m. at Town Hall.