Having been pummeled by the public over a poor response to storm debris clearing and subsequent leaf pickups, officials are saying change is coming to the village.
"We have the same concerns, all of us living in Ridgewood, of the response to the storm and the leaf pickup," said Mayor Keith Killion at Wednesday night's council meeting. "I have instructed the village manager to revise and come up with a better plan to better address the safety and the storm response. We have heard all your e-mails, we've heard all your complaints, the majority of them are the same complaints we see."
In e-mails, phone calls and chatter across main thoroughfares and cul-de-sacs alike, village residents have expressed outrage with the cleanup response to the devastating Halloween weekend snowstorm, which will cost an estimated $240,000. Well over a month after the trees were ripped down and wires hung overhead, large piles of leaves and branches narrow many streets, scrape sides of cars and force pedestrians into the roadways.
"It is a major hazard," said Heights Road resident Ed Feldsott, addressing village council members in an e-mail received by Patch. "Driving down Ridgewood streets is like driving through a treacherous obstacle course. Someone is going to get hurt because the town[']s negligence to clean up the debris."
Police have complained the school areas – where traffic and drop-off is already often a safety concern – have not been cleared in some cases. In one day, six drivers were issued warnings not to park in restricted areas. The parents complained, said one source in Village Hall, that there was no where else to go due to the piles of debris.
A look down Clinton Avenue across from Ridge Elementary School displays the issue at hand. Drivers and pedestrians must weave around large piles of debris and leaves on the small street, one that now barely fits traffic in one direction.
New plan on the way
The current plan, in effect since 2007 after a DEP recommendation, "evidently is outdated," Killion said from the dais.
The mayor remarked that a new plan will be developed "in the next couple of months" and it will be one that will contain resident input, he said.
Village Manager Ken Gabbert, who's been the target of many resident concerns of late, said the snowstorm was extraordinary and contrary to resident belief, the village has hit all four designated pickup areas.
Due to extraordinary circumstances, people just didn't quite know it, he said.
The embattled village manager said when the first leaf pickup passes were made before the storm, few leaves had fallen. The village had just finished two areas when the storm hit, which impacted the remaining two. By the third go-around, the storm had just hit and resources had to be dedicated to safety and emergency measures, Gabbert said.
While there was work done in "each and every area," the impact "wasn't there in the first two rounds, and the third round was emergency attention to the areas that were affected," the manager contended Wednesday night.
When combined, Gabbert said, it "put all the pressure on the current round we're going through."
Where are they now?
The village is currently working through Area B right now, the hard-hit West Side section where numerous residents complained of major roads being ignored while small streets on the East Side were clean as a whistle.
Asked why many main roads in the West Side were not cleared though smaller roads had been east of the tracks, Streets Division head John Spano told Patch the division – which now numbers fewer than ten people after large-scale layoffs in 2010 – moves through the scheduled areas, not back and forth on a priority basis.
On Monday, the village will again hit the East Side through the mostly clear Area C before circling back to Area D, the southwest side of Ridgewood and one still under a mountain of leaf piles and downed tree branches.
Gabbert said in an e-mail Wednesday he estimated leaf pickup would be done by Dec. 21 though several village workers Patch spoke with said they wouldn't be at all surprised if the calendar turned to 2012 and leaves were still littering village streets.
Another snowstorm would considerably impact the ability to remove the leaf piles, though Gabbert said it was unlikely to snow before leafs are whisked away.
Amount of leaves is highly unusual
The amount of leaves on the ground is unprecedented, Gabbert said.
"We're already at 38,000" cubic yards of leaves and "we're projecting close to 63,000 in total cubic yard debris," he remarked. Because the DEP regulations require the village dispose of the leafs, which are mixed together with branches and other material, a contractor must dispose of the fill. That'll run about $140,000, Gabbert said. Further, revenue from composting this year will likely be low, if any.
Manpower at this point of the season is normally around 2,900 hours logged for village workers, Gabbert said. This go around, the village is already at 3,900 and is likely to hit 5,700 or 5,800 hours. In-house overtime costs alone will amount to $60,000, not including the additional $40,000 incurred by ConQuest Industries of Westwood. About four to five county workers have also been dispatched to Ridgewood, Gabbert said.
The Westwood contractor, which the village manager said in an e-mail was needed because it had equipment the village simply does not have, worked just under six days in mid-November.
Asked why the contractor did not work longer to facilitate a quicker cleanup, Gabbert said the village workforce was working as much overtime as "safely possible" but did not further elaborate.
Although the financial hit is considerable – $240,000 for 'Snowtober' – the village may get some relief through FEMA claims after Bergen County hit the mark for the disaster declaration. The village may get up to 65 percent of a claim, items for which have been filed under Emergency Appropriations.
While the response to leaf collection and storm emergencies in 2012 may prove much better, it will come with a hard-earned lesson.
"The ’12 budget will be well stressed," Gabbert said.