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Ridgewood Mayor: 'Outdated' Leaf Pickup System Isn't Working

Residents, council upset at poor response to snowstorm debris clearing, leaf pickup

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The current plan, in effect since 2007 after a DEP recommendation, "evidently is outdated," Killion said from the dais.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.

Financial impact

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.

TGooch December 09, 2011 at 08:07 PM
I believe that "the response to leaf collection and storm emergencies in 2012 may prove much better" will be due to the fact that this current group of incompetents will no longer be holding office or employed in the Village of Ridgewood.
Boyd A. Loving December 09, 2011 at 10:58 PM
It is doubtful that Village officials will order the removal of hundreds of trees, or prohibit leaves from being deposited at the curb, or ban the use of professional landscape contractors. Thus, changing the method by which leaves are collected seems like an issue they should address. The most practical solution in my opinion is to expand the collection of leaves beyond a “one shift per day” operation. That is, instead of confining the use of leaf collection equipment to eight hours, deploy a “overlapping shift” workforce plan during leaf collection season and collect leaves beyond the traditional 3:00-3:30 PM quitting time. It makes no sense to keep equipment idle for a longer time period during a day than the equipment is working. Assigning workers to overlapping shifts would preclude the use of overtime hours. Of course, union contracts may need to be revised to facilitate such a plan. Also, the Village should purchase at least one automated, single-operator leaf collection vehicle designed and equipped to permit the vehicle’s driver to safely operate a powerful leaf vacuum/shredder from his/her cab by using just a joy stick. This vehicle could be deployed for several hours each weekday at the conclusion of “standard leaf pickup operations,” and on Saturdays and Sundays. The vehicle must be equipped with a two-way radio in order that police dispatchers could direct it to areas requiring immediate attention due to safety and/or traffic issues.
Joann December 10, 2011 at 12:46 AM
I think the areas around the schools and main thoroghfares leading to the hospital should be a TOP priority. Also, regarding an "overlapping shift", you have to remember daylight savings time will have a negative impact on that. How can you safely pick up leaves in the dark - 4:30 pm? Extending it to Saturdays is a good idea, but not Sundays.
AMAMOM December 10, 2011 at 01:53 AM
I live on the West Side, on a DEAD END STREET which has been cleared for a week. I travel on N.Pleasant daily, an Olympic Salomon course with SUV's, Trade Trucks and other major traffic. Where is the logic, how are streets prioritized?
Boyd A. Loving December 10, 2011 at 03:46 AM
Leaf piles could safely be vacuumed and shredded at night if the proposed single-operator vehicle were equipped with floodlights positioned to illuminate the curb area in front of the vehicle. Here is an example of a vehicle that is now commercially available. This particular vehicle might not be right for Ridgewood, but illustrates my point. http://ciequipment.com/products/product-detail.cfm/product/GiantVac-900JDT-CM-with-InCab-Joystick-Control
Michael December 10, 2011 at 01:57 PM
The DEP is state quagmire imposing its wrath on us. The leaf rules, the RHS stadium turf and the 6 year battle for a concession stand at Vets are just a few that come to mind. If their meddling in local affairs ended, we'd be able to come up with solutions that fit us - the people who actually live here.
James Jr. December 10, 2011 at 03:17 PM
I have to agree that the response has been subpar at say the least, however I am going to go against the grain with my comments... Part of the delay were actually cause by us residents and our landscaping company. The usual leaf pickup process was to use street cleaners to push the leaves into piles -- allowing the front loaders to address a single pile or two for the block. Due to residents adding massive amount of branches and tree limbs that option was no longer viable -- instead front loaders had to go to each house to move the leaves -- a slow process. We should not have put large branches into these piles as instructed by the Village. Also, the size of branches put into these piles were even over the size instructed by the Village. I took time to saw mine into organize pile of logs (which I am glad someone took probably for firewood). I saw neighbors' tree companies cut down multiple branches (trees front front/back) and left them in the piles for the town to pick up. Lastly and probably a pet peeve of mine, is after the recent pickup of the West side there are already residents who added more leaves to the recently clean street. I truly believe the solution is not only needed from Village hall by from each resident. We need to work together to prevent causing a problem to become worst by our actions. End rant :)
Joann December 10, 2011 at 03:32 PM
Boyd, that is a very interesting option - never saw a truck like that run by one. May work. But James is correct about people being smarter with what/how they place their leaves and branches at the curb. They also need to be more careful about leaf placement near street sewer drains, so we don't have flooding in crosswalks or streets when it rains.
James Kleimann December 10, 2011 at 04:28 PM
Really good point, James Jr. Many residents and landscapers did not exactly help make it easier for the village.
Douglas Cronk December 10, 2011 at 04:36 PM
This sure is frustrating. While it needs to be addressed, this is't about regular leaf pickup and the related schedule. It is about storm debris, communication and safety. If we want to handle it better next time, how about listening to residents when they warn of safety hazards, rather than talk down to them? They, rightly, feel like the responses amounted to, "Silly taxpayer. You just don't understand how things work. Move along." That continues in this story, from the VM's weather predictions to his implication that we just didn't notice the trucks to the fact that they're sticking to the (flawed) schedule when everyone knows certain areas should be addressed first. (Maybe) Lastly, don't blame the mess on the budget/layoffs when you just got a nice retroactive raise. "I deserve a raise because of how much money I saved. Wow. You guys are screwed. You don't have enough money."
Dominick Nizza December 10, 2011 at 04:38 PM
Boyd, just posted a photo of one (two man) Leaf loader possibility. Faster and safer. and can be added to one of our trucks. Nominal cost.
RdgwdGRock December 10, 2011 at 04:43 PM
As I recall, after the storm...I mean "crisis"...the Village site had specific instructions to put tree branches and limbs in the street by the curb. The only crisis here is a lack of leadership and organization, and the will to make decisions "on the fly". We The People must ask the next mayoral candidates the proper questions regarding a number of issues facing Ridgewood. For the current mayor to state that the "Outdated Leaf Pickup System Isn't Working" all these weeks later is a "duh...right?!" moment. What took him so long to come to this realization? Has he made an effort to go various areas of Ridgewood and knock on ramdom doors to solicit thoughts from the community? Perhaps he is afraid.
JB December 10, 2011 at 05:39 PM
Its easy to criticize, but until you do the leaf collection job and deal with what the residents have put out, you wouldn't understand. That wonderful one person leaf sucker would be a absolute waste for ridgewood to buy. Why? Because the branches and other items the residents bury in the piles, would clog it constantly and time would be lost. Similar to what is going on now when the leaf sucker is out they have to either pull the branches out and throw them in the truck or leave the, for the tree crew to come and chip. Also have you ever watched what occurs? The village finishes an area and then the residents landscapers come and put more on the street. Perhaps after a certain date it would be better served if residents had to have their landscapers take the leaves with them. Perhaps a fine would help enforce it. It's easy to blow your leaves on the street and then bitch and moan about the cleanup, especially after the snow storm and all the debris now mixed in the leave and in addition to the leaves making it a bigger job than ever before.
James Jr. December 10, 2011 at 09:35 PM
Not sure if there was anything on the website previous to this post, but it appears on 11/2 the website had the following notice, "Place all branches and related debris at the curb for pick up." Meaning on the curbside and not in the street -- like as is done for curbside garbage pickup or recycling. Not sure if people mistook that as place in the street. Source: http://www.ridgewoodnj.net/main_latest.cfm?ArticleID=916
Dominick Nizza December 11, 2011 at 12:51 PM
How about an official Street Dept report on the above process (equipment, temporary man/female workers etc. Why must our Patch readers keep providing the information?
Anonymous Guy December 12, 2011 at 01:25 PM
The loaders are very efficient, the vaccuum is for some situations, a solo opertaor system would be a waste in Ridgewood due to branches and other items in leaves. I find it amusing that everyone wants them cleaned up fast, but when the loaders roll in and they have to close the street they are on for safety everyone complains. YOU CANT HAVE IT BOTH WAYS!
John Hahn December 13, 2011 at 01:31 PM
Dom, I just found this photo on Vintage Bergen County Face Book Page. It is called the leafhog. Here is the link to the photo Enjoy: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=136059186505477&set=pu.109113822533347&type=1&theater
Dominick Nizza December 13, 2011 at 04:36 PM
Thanks friend John Hahn, that link led me to Vintage Photos of Bergen County. Perhaps, a similar gallery topic page for our readers should be started.
Jim December 21, 2011 at 03:35 PM
The village manager should have been the one to point out that the current system "isn't working" and also should have sought to reinforce the communication about separating leaves and branches. Email lists anyone? This is leadership 101 stuff. *scratches head*

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