Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 5
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
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Township Leaf Management Meeting Hears Resident Frustrations, Offers Some Options

Dilshanie Perera

Members of Township Committee, Township staff, and the Princeton Environmental Commission met with residents on Monday to address concerns about autumn leaf collection, complying with existing ordinances, and how to best manage problems caused by leaves in the streets.

“Princeton Township is a tree city,” acknowledged Township Mayor Bernie Miller, calling the fall leaf management “an issue that has vexed Township Committee for over six years.”

Committee member Liz Lempert, who is also the Township liaison to the Environmental Commission, added that leaf pickup is “challenging to get right,” and commended the Public Works Department for their work.

“Leaves don’t fall when you want them to fall...and we never win,” said Township Public Works Superintendent Don Hansen, explaining that since 2003 the municipality has been divided up into four sections for fall leaf collection, with bulk pickups scheduled twice a season between October and December, during which staff works non-stop at clearing roads of leaves. “The goal is to keep our streets clean and safe,” he said.

“Nothing else happens during those three months,” Mr. Hansen reported, with Township equipment, like front-end loaders and 20 and 25 cubic-yard refuse trucks devoted to leaf pickup. He said that public works staff worked 3,225 regular hours and 450 overtime hours during October, November, and December last year.

Beyond the two collections, Township residents who bag their leaves have them picked up once a week for 10 weeks during the season, with biodegradable paper bags available for pick up at the public works department. Mr. Hansen said that in 2009, 645 households made use of the leaf bagging program, adding, “We’re suggesting that people participate in a program that has worked well.”

Newly-appointed Chair of the Princeton Environmental Commission Matt Wasserman said that keeping as many leaves on one’s property during the autumn is beneficial for a number of reasons: fewer leaves mean fewer trips by public works vehicles to the composting facility and thus would require less fuel and free up the Public Works Department to provide other service. Leaves also aid in flood control.

Mr. Wasserman suggested that homeowners spread leaves in wooded areas, create leaf piles, engage in shredding or composting, mow leaves back into the lawn, instruct their landscapers to engage in these practices, and increase the use of bagged leaves.

As for how the Township and Environmental Commission could assist in the process, Mr. Wasserman suggested that they give away bags during the entire season, start up local leaf composting sites at school gardens or in neighborhood parks, create incentives for compliance, educate residents and landscapers, distribute a Township map indicating where residents can pile leaves, enforce the ordinances to change behavior, and create an environmental “geek squad” of volunteers to help residents set up composting apparatus or create a leaf corral.

Residents approved of some ideas while expressing some frustrations with the system. The rigidity of the leaf collection schedule, which is determined early in the year, was cited as something to adapt to the time when leaves actually fall from trees, since sometimes the first leaf collection in some sections of the Township happens prior to most trees shedding their foliage.

One citizen suggested sending out e-mails or calling homes in the event of scheduling changes or an extra pickup during the fall, while others alternately praised and decried the leaf bagging program.

Neighborhood competitions and incentives for following the ordinance rules and leaf pick up schedule (which state that leaves should be placed onto the street adjacent to the curb not more than seven days in advance of the collection) were touted as options.

“If citizens and residents don’t pay attention and don’t comply with them, then it doesn’t matter what kind of rules we have,” said Dale Mead, a longtime resident of the Township.

Acknowledging the challenge to best methods of leaf disposal, Township Committee member Sue Nemeth said, “I don’t want to increase our budget and our workload, but we do need more frequent pickups.”

“Education is the biggest thing,” noted Dan Emann, an owner of a landscape business who said it is discouraging to see other homes in noncompliance with the ordinance.

Township Committee member Lance Liverman said that many processes would be fine-tuned, with Ms. Lempert adding that better communications, increased ordinance enforcement, and the creation of a “geek squad” were ideas to pursue further in the coming year.

Mr. Miller characterized the meeting as one during which “a lot of frustrations and a lot of good suggestions” were heard. The Township will “work on improving outreach and ways to make the program better,” he added.

For now, the next steps are to “reflect on what we heard, and work with the Environmental Commission and Public Works Department,” Mr. Miller said.

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