East Hampton has one of the lowest recycling rates on the East End, says new Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, and he’s planning to do something to change that this year, starting at Town Hall.
This week, said Mr. Cantwell in a press release Wednesday, all town offices will begin recycling paper products, and the new supervisor said at Tuesday’s work session that he plans to look into other methods of increasing the public’s recycling rate, including the “pay-as-you-throw” per-bag fees that have helped boost recycling in Southampton and Southold towns.
Currently, East Hampton residents pay for an annual permit that allows them to bring as much garbage as they’d like to the town’s landfills.
“The town needs to set an example,” Mr. Cantwell said after the Tuesday work session. “If we ask our residents to increase their recycling efforts, the town must do so as well.”
The recycling discussion came out of a budget update from Town Budget Officer Len Bernard, who said the 2014 town budget is dependent on raising the landfill permit fees, or the sanitation department will face a shortfall of about $300,000 by year-end.
Mr. Bernard proposed raising the annual fee for the first household permit from $100 to $115, raising the second permit fee from $15 to $40 and raising the senior citizen fee from $50 to $55. He said the secondary permit, whose fee hasn’t been increased since 2008, has been abused by residents, who often bring in larger loads of garbage than would be expected from a typical household.
He also suggested doubling the one-day fee for people who don’t purchase season permits from $10 to $20. Though that increase could bring in $100,000 of extra revenue, board members were concerned it would lead to more illegal dumping at road ends and beaches.
“We need to launch a campaign to increase recycling. I think our recycling rate is low compared to other communities,” said Mr. Cantwell. Though the board needs to make a decision quickly on whether to raise permit fees this year, he said he’d like to re-examine recycling alternatives in his term.
“The pay as you go effort, where you pay for the cost of the bags, gives an incentive to recycle when recycling materials is free,” he said. “I’m not sure, given the time frame here, that we’d be able to even take a serious look at that. But we very clearly need to make an effort to increase the recycling rate.”
Town Board member Sylvia Overby suggested the town give out letters to people picking up landfill permits letting them know the price of the permit might not increase next year if more people sort recycleables out of their garbage.
Mr. Cantwell said he has also suggested to Highway Superintendent Stephen Lynch, who is also serving as the head of the sanitation department, that the town re-open the Home Exchange re-use center at the Springs-Fireplace Road landfill, which has been closed since a near-accident involving a child several years ago.
Mr. Cantwell also pledged community collaboration on a pending U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to shore up downtown Montauk’s oceanfront beaches, after Concerned Citizens of Montauk Executive Director Jeremy Samuelson asked the board at Tuesday’s work session to consider several factors affecting the project.
Mr. Samuelson delivered a letter from several environmental groups, including CCOM, Group for the East End, The Nature Conservancy and the Peconic Baykeeper, asking the board to hire an independent coastal engineer to evaluate the Army Corps’ plan. Last year’s board, headed by Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, had declined to hire their own engineer.
“Please engage with professional coastal engineering expertise and help,” said Mr. Samuelson. “Ask people who work with these issues, day in and day out.”
Mr. Cantwell said his office is looking into hiring an engineering firm.
“I do think the board would like to have some expertise available to it,” he said. “When the Army Corps makes their next presentation, we want to have some expertise available directly to the town.”
Mr. Cantwell added that his administration is seeking grant money to help the community prepare for sea level rise.
“It’s clear, as a community, we need to address this issue more broadly,” he said.
Former supervisor Wilkinson was no fan of Mr. Samuelson, whom he infamously referred to as ‘Mr. Lobbyist,'” and Mr. Samuelson seemed visibly relieved to be addressing a board that was receptive to his ideas.
“There is a solution that the vast majority of different constituencies can live with,” said Mr. Samuelson. “The conversation has focused on whether or not there was disagreement, not whether there can be agreement. If we start with that viewpoint, we can make progress a lot faster.”
Mr. Samuelson added that he’d like the new board to look in to restarting programs at Fort Pond House, a nature center that had been considered for sale by the previous board, and into putting up signs at the South Lake Beach on Lake Montauk letting people know it’s no longer a public bathing beach, due to water quality problems after heavy rains.
“After a heavy rain, it’s not an appropriate place to take young children,” he said. “For generations, people would take their toddlers there and put them in the water, because it was the safe location, with no wave action.”
“This is a real public health situation,” he said, adding that he thought the former board had political reasons for refusing to put signs at the beach. “We have an obligation to our community to notify them.”