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Loose leaf impasse blows over in Riverhead, board sets deadline for pickup

Riverhead Town Hall in Riverhead in June 2019.

Riverhead Town Hall in Riverhead in June 2019. Credit: James Carbone

Despite officials’ previous objections, Riverhead’s Highway Department will be required to pick up loose leaves by Nov. 30 after the Town Board voted to order the department do so.

The board voted 3-1 at a special meeting on Nov. 10 to require the department to undertake and complete loose leaf pickup from the curbs of residents’ homes.

Riverhead Highway Superintendent George "Gio" Woodson, who is retiring on Dec. 31, has told the board for several years that he felt it was not his department’s responsibility to do loose leaf pickups, and that the town’s Sanitation Department should handle it instead.

Woodson and the town agreed in November 2020 that the highway department would handle the leaf pickups for 2020, and that the department would not be responsible for pickup in 2021. However, the board revisited having highway pick up leaves this year after senior residents requested it continue.

Woodson did not respond to Newsday’s requests for comment.

Historically, the highway department has been tasked with picking up leaves since 1968, Deputy Town Attorney Anne Marie Prudenti told the board at the special meeting. Prudenti also reiterated statements attributed to the town’s financial administrator, William Rothaar, that expenses for loose leaves have been outlined in the highway budget throughout the years.

Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said at the meeting that not picking up leaves posed a safety hazard, as discarded leaves along town roadways could create problems for pedestrians and drivers.

"This is our fiduciary responsibility," Aguiar said. "It’s for the safety of the public to provide them with the services that they pay for."

Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who voted against the resolution, said by forcing Woodson and his department to pick up the leaves it was as if the town was "bullying" Woodson into doing so.

"He has stood by this, and he was very clear with the town board that he did not want to pick up leaves," Kent said. "If the town really wants to pick up leaves, it should be in the general budget and it can be done under sanitation."

Councilman Ken Rothwell, who voted yes, responded by telling Kent that Woodson had been previously invited to speak with the board and yet he declined.

"There is no bullying," Rothwell said. "The money is in the budget and we’re simply asking him to perform the duties of the highway [department]."

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