Sunday, September 25, 2005

Enjoy the Leaves - Till They Fall

Autumn is officially here and soon the city’s 38,000 trees will begin dropping their leaves.

But due to new state Department of Environmental Protection regulations, raking them to the curb may not be an option this year. In order to improve the quality of water that runs into storm drains and eventually to the state’s waterways, the DEP is attempting to limit the amount of natural and manmade debris that is washed into the drains. At a July 12 City Council budget meeting, City Administrator Norton Bonaparte told the governing body that unless a municipality can guarantee that piles of leaves will be removed from streets within seven days, bagging may be required.

All new construction and redevelopment will have to take into account the stormwater regulations, Public Works Superintendent John Louise told the council at the same budget session. Land use ordinances must be revised accordingly to include language on control of runoff into the storm drains. And the present storm basin grates themselves must be replaced to prevent less contamination, Louise said.

Despite the early warning, when a flap arose over a proposed $16 million bond ordinance that included $175,00 to cover costs of meeting the regulations, the council broke the ordinance into four separate ones. The bond ordinance that included the DEP expenses was slashed from $4 million to $1.9 million on Aug 15, omitting the $175,000 and many other items, even though Bonaparte made a specific request for the council to spare the DEP funding.

Residents can get a limited amount of free paper leaf bags at the city yard on South Avenue, but some homeowners find themselves needing dozens to hold the volume of leaves in neighborhoods lined with mature oaks, such as East Seventh Street near Terrill Road. The volume can be reduced by running a lawn mower over leaf piles or by using leaf vacuums that shred the leaves. If they have room in their back yards, homeowners may choose to compost their leaves.

To see how one Union County municipality explored and resolved the issue, visit

New Providence officials took into account the burden of bagging on seniors, the costs involved with a stepped-up leaf collection schedule to meet the 7-day deadline and possible cooperation with landscapers to help reduce borough costs.

The DEP’s goal is to prevent flooding from clogged drains as well as to curtail the effect of decomposing plant matter on the quality of water in rivers, streams, lakes and bays. Residents are also asked not to put trash or cigarette butts down storm drains and not to let animal waste, motor oil, fertilizers or pesticides get into stormwater. The agency calls all these elements “Non-point Source Pollution,” or people pollution from everyday human activities such as washing the car, walking the dog or fertilizing the front lawn.
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--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: Fall leaves