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Amityville residents upset with cleanup pace

Michael Gramse stands before a pile of garbage

Michael Gramse stands before a pile of garbage from superstorm Sandy in front of his Amityville home. (Nov. 28, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

Christmas lights are up on Amityville's main street. Most of the village's front yards are orderly and clean. But a month after superstorm Sandy barreled through, piles of debris lined many bayfront streets this week -- the most visible symbol, some residents say, of inadequate government response to the storm.

In interviews, emails and at a contentious village board meeting Monday night, residents complained of sodden mounds of drywall, insulation and furniture sitting curbside alongside bags of rotting garbage for weeks.

Trash bins supplied by the Town of Babylon were unmarked and inconveniently placed, they said, and cleanup sweeps by Amityville's Department of Public Works were unannounced, making it hard for residents to move debris out in a timely manner.

While the Town of Babylon has assisted, Amityville is responsible for the bulk of its cleanup. Incorporated villages in hard-hit Hempstead and Oyster Bay face the same task and are also receiving aid from their towns. But the outcry in the last week has been loudest in Amityville.

"The garbage we are living through is appalling. We're not getting any help," said Chris Carman, of Norman Avenue.

"Everyone is getting sick of the runaround and the horrific smell from the garbage on the street," wrote Donna DeSousa, the daughter of a Grand Central Avenue couple, in an email to Newsday.

"It's been a month," said Michael Gramse, 47, next to a 5-foot-high pile of wet clothes, furniture, drywall and flooring at his Norman Avenue home.

Residents also complained about a notice Mayor Peter Imbert wrote warning some residents of a possible summons for repeatedly placing debris in roads and on the right of way. One of the recipients was a 96-year-old man interviewed on local television news. "Where are we going to put it, on the roof?" the man asked.

Officials said Monday night that the village has been picking up this waste -- 12,000 cubic yards of household debris and tons more of construction debris, stones, trees and brush so far -- and will continue to do so without issuing summonses, although the job is keeping the Department of Public Works from doing necessary work elsewhere.

The village's 25 DPW employees have worked 10 to 12 hours a day since the storm. But the village has struggled with what officials say are historically tight budgets in the last three years, putting off purchases of new equipment and keeping payroll lean.

Unlike the villages of Babylon and Lindenhurst, which collect their own garbage, Amityville relies on the town's carter, which village officials and some residents said provided scant help removing debris and even skipped household garbage pickups after the storm. The company, EnCon, did not return a request for comment; a spokesman for the town praised its performance.

"Every additional truck would have made a difference in our response out on the street," said deputy mayor Peter Casserly. "Our infrastructure is very thin."

Residents have adamantly opposed tax increases or borrowing measures that would shore it up.

"We did the best we could," Imbert said. "We knew it was coming, and we were ready for it. We just didn't have the resources for afterward."

While the village is hiring outside contractors to assist cleanup, Trustee Dennis Siry said, that effort is being slowed by FEMA regulations mandating that the village put the jobs out to bid.

Publicly, Imbert sought to deflect some blame over debris removal, warning of "abuse" by some residents who were using the effort to clear attics and basements and remove trees "not damaged during the storm."

But residents' criticisms were broader than debris.

"Communication was horrible," said Maureen Howard of Franklin Street.

Trustees have admitted privately that it could have been better. "I'm a trustee, and I didn't know about the Dumpsters," said Edward Johnson, who has said he will run for mayor in March.In an interview, Imbert said he was considering retiring from public office before Sandy. He said he had "used his position to get resources into the village as soon as possible" by talking with utility and other elected officials. He said he would have done nothing differently. "I needed to be where I was, in contact with people running things and getting things back in motion."

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