The Town of Southampton is looking to address increased litter concerns many believe is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The town board unanimously voted to establish a litter crew May 26, leasing three pickup trucks and hiring a full-time seasonal crew of six to pick up debris strewn across the sides of roads, at parks, and on beaches. Much of the increased litter, which the town has been hearing about from constituents, seems to be personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said.
“There’s an awful lot of litter out there,” he said. “There seems to be a real disregard — a sense of wild abandon during COVID-19 that people are just tossing things about.”
While many avid beachgoers take morning walks to pick up trash like bottles, Styrofoam, balloons, and straws, Schneiderman said there’s now a legitimate fear over touching refuse thanks to the novel coronavirus.
“I’d like to address that; I feel we really need to do something about it,” the supervisor said. “Make a dent in the pollution that’s occurred. There’s just too much litter out there.”
“We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth,” said Councilman Rick Martel, “and we need to keep it that way.” Martel was forced to cancel the townwide volunteer beach cleanup earlier this year because of the pandemic.
“The amount of litter throughout our town has noticeably increased these last several months,” Councilwoman Julie Lofstad said. “We shouldn’t have to see bags of household garbage thrown on our streets or at our beaches. With the unbelievable increase in the amount of garbage everywhere, “TLC” —town litter crew — can be the workhorse to help keep our town beautiful.”
Schneiderman said he wanted to first ensure the town wasn’t taking any work away from anyone else, and said there are no designated employees that pick up litter in the town, although this will supplement the work the Community Preservation Fund already does in maintaining preserved parcels, sending the workers to those properties as well. The supervisor, who hopes to get the litter crew up and running in two weeks, said town Director of Public Transportation & Traffic Safety Tom Neely is already working on getting permits to pick up trash along state roads — right-of-ways and road shoulders — as well as county roads, and village roads.
“Wherever it is needed, and where we’re given permission,” Schneiderman said.
Town Superintendent of Highways Alex Gregor will also be extended the option of having the crew work on town roads, or use unallocated funds to hire his own crew to manage for roadside cleanup.
“I think that we’ll get a lot of constituents pointing out where they think that we should be picking up garbage, which is a good thing,” Councilwoman Julie Lofstad said. “They know where it is.”
The new hires will be given poles to poke and pick up the litter, along with any other necessary gear and personal protective equipment. There will be no minimum qualifications for the laborer positions, which will receive $17/hour pay. The total amount for the venture will not exceed $50,000, which will cover the next two months and potentially beyond, Schneiderman said. Disposal costs of the collected items, which will be measured and weighed at the town’s processing facility, will come from unallocated reserves.
Public Safety Emergency Management Administrator Ryan Murphy will be in charge of managing the crew.
“I’ve got it. Don’t worry about it,” he joked when asked if he could add it to his busy schedule. “I’m making a list tomorrow of where they need to go.”
Murphy recently received a $5000 promotion for his work handling code enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic — working long hours, securing PPE for the town, and continuing to take on added responsibilities.
“They say if you want something done ask a busy person,” Schneiderman said. “I have no doubt that you’ll get the job done.”
Residents will be able to report problem areas using the SOS system available on the town’s website. Southampton Online Solutions is a web-based platform designed by the town a few years ago to log in and track citizen complaints and concerns. Using the platform, a resident can alert the town of a problem and place it on a map so the location is clear to the responding department. The SOS system will be modified to have a special check box for reporting litter issues. For more information log onto the town website at www.southamptontownny.gov.
Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer said she can also think of a few places to start.
“There’s many supermarket parking lots to send them to,” she said.