Officials say residents abusing brush pickup program

TIM KELLY PHOTO | Southold Highway Superintendent Pete Harris.
TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | Southold Highway Superintendent Pete Harris.

Outgoing Highway Superintendent Pete Harris says some residents are abusing the town’s spring brush pickup program and he’s requesting that the town amend its policy.

During its regular work session Tuesday, Mr. Harris was joined by North Fork Environment Council member Bill Toedter in telling board members that an increasing number of people are capitalizing on the free program to clear entire parcels of land rather than just perform maintenance pruning.

“The fact is that homes have four, five, six, seven truckloads of brush stacked out in front [of one house],” Mr. Harris said. “That is taking advantage of what the program is supposed to be. If the town wants to continue the cleanup on a yearly basis we need to put some teeth into it.”

Mr. Harris suggested the town either set limits on how much brush one household can dispose of or simply discontinue the program all together.

In order to remove the excessive brush, Mr. Harris said, the town must pay tipping fees and employee overtime and, as a result, this year’s program is $16,000 over budget.

From an environmental standpoint, Mr. Toedter added, year-round residents are taking advantage of a time when seasonal residents are away to clear wetlands and bluff along the Sound. He argued that timing the program for the spring disturbs the ecosystem, specifically the mating of birds.

“The North Fork Environmental Council is concerned at this point because it’s getting out of hand,” he said. “We have hundreds of people clearing out land during nesting season.”

Supervisor Scott Russell acknowledged the problem, but said enforcing a strict limit on the number of truckloads of brush per household has proven difficult. In the past, some residents have piled their brush on vacant neighboring lots, making it impossible to issue a citation, he said.

Mr. Russell asked Mr. Harris to provide figures on the cost of the pickup program to use in working toward a solution but he discounted the notion of doing away with the program entirely.

“You mentioned clearing the bluffs but all of that is protected under town code,” he said. “Is it really just an enforcement issue? But to sever a service the public has come to rely on seems rather drastic to address some people abusing that system.”

[email protected]