Dispute over garbage pickup in Southampton

A Town of Southampton garbage can in Water

A Town of Southampton garbage can in Water Mill. (Jan. 14, 2013) (Credit: Gordon M. Grant)

A turf war, of sorts, has broken out in the picturesque business districts of Southampton Town, from Bridgehampton and Water Mill to East Quogue and Hampton Bays.

Few casual observers would notice, but Southampton Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor is refusing to empty garbage cans on the streets. "It would be illegal," he says.

Traditionally, the highway department has been responsible for garbage pickup, and Gregor said he only recently learned he could not legally do that job on state highways. The town board does not agree.


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The town board has meanwhile directed the Parks Department -- which has no responsibility for the cans and no funds in its budget for the work -- to do the job temporarily, until a resolution can be worked out.

"We have no other option," town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said. "We can't let the garbage pails overflow. The community has the right to expect that basic service."

The town board voted 4-0 last week, with one abstention, to require Gregor to go back to doing the pickup work, but the board did not give him additional funds to do it.

The question of who picks up the garbage is complicated by the fact that, while the highway superintendent is an independently elected official, the town board approves the highway department budget, and Gregor said no money was put in for garbage disposal.

"They [the town] charge me to dump the garbage I take out of these cans . . ." Gregor said.

The issue came to a head just before superstorm Sandy hit, because Gregor took more than a dozen garbage pails off Montauk Highway and State Route 24, and didn't put them back. "They're dangerous in a high wind," he explained.

He had also removed some of the garbage pails from Flanders and Hampton Bays, which Gregor said only fill up with trash during tourist season.

Regarding the cost of trash disposal, Fleming said that charging the highway department for bringing garbage to the town transfer station is no different from the charge imposed on all other town departments that use the facility. Southampton requires every town department to pay for its use of the transfer station as a way of determining their total operating costs. "It's just a budgetary measure to ensure the integrity of accounting," she said.

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