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Lawrence council members eye brush collection program for updated regulations

Plagued by mounds of tree limbs and yard waste piled up on Lawrence Township’s streets, the Township Council may introduce an ordinance to clarify how the brush collection system works.

Council members spent nearly an hour at their June 18 meeting discussing the brush collection program, one of the more popular programs offered by the township, with Public Works Director Greg Whitehead.

There have been “a ton of issues” with the program lately, Whitehead said, adding that “we need some serious tweaking to keep the program, to preserve the program.”

The Department of Public Works picks up yard waste – tree limbs and brush trimmings – from each street once a month. The township is divided into four collection zones. The existing regulations require residents to put brush and tree prunings not more than 4 feet away from the curb, in a pile not more than 3 feet tall and 12 feet in length.

Tree stumps, grass clippings, diseased material and firewood will not be picked up. Grass clippings are to be put in trash bags and placed in trash cans with household trash.

Compliance with the regulations is poor, Whitehead said. Commercial landscape contractors continue to place yard debris in the street even after DPW crews have passed through the neighborhood to collect it, he said.

Lately, commercial landscapers have been placing tree stumps in the street for collection, Whitehead said. The landscapers leave the tree stumps in the street and “the neighbors are upset because they do not want to look at the piles,” he said.

Whitehead also said commercial landscapers have been caught dumping yard debris from other towns onto Lawrence Township streets. He said they bring the materials from their jobs in other towns into the township for collection.

Another issue is the proximity of yard debris to storm drains, he said. Although the yard debris is not supposed to be placed within 10 feet of a storm drain, sometimes debris covers a storm drain and clogs it.

Added to that is the amount of time DPW crews spend on brush collection, Whitehead said. They spend about 3,500 man-hours on brush collection, leaving less time for other tasks.

“Leaf and brush collection are starting to swallow up our time,” Whitehead said, adding that the brush is piling up.

In 2015, crews collected 8,400 cubic yards of debris. In 2016 and 2017, they collected 10,000 cubic yards each year. To date this year, the crews have picked up almost 10,000 cubic yards, he said.

Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski agreed the brush collection ordinance needs to be revised or tweaked. He told council members he has asked Municipal Attorney David Roskos to draw up a new ordinance.

Residents have come to expect brush collection as a municipal service, Nerwinski said, adding that “we are a victim of our own success. We are not taking the service away.” He said the key issue is enforcement of the regulations.

The brush collection program was intended for homeowners who do their own yard work, but it has gone far beyond that, he said. The primary problem is the commercial landscape contractors who do not remove what they have trimmed or clipped, he said.

Councilman Michael Powers concurred with Nerwinski that the program is a victim of its own success. The volume of material that is collected has grown, although the number of houses in the township has not increased, Powers said. Landscapers are dumping the debris in the streets and not loading their own trucks, he said.

Powers suggested registering and licensing commercial landscape contractors. The municipal clerk could give them “the rules of the road” when they apply or receive a license, so they would know what is expected, he said.

Roskos said the township does not want to be a dumping ground. The issue is more about education, letting the landscapers know they need to take the debris with them.

“If we catch you bringing (debris in), we will fine you,” Roskos said.

Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis said a monetary fine for violating the regulations needs to be part of a new ordinance. The first violation would result in a warning, but subsequent violations would result in a fine, she said.

Nerwinski said if a fine is part of the ordinance, it would not be used as a money-maker, but only to enforce the regulations. A new ordinance could be brought to council next month.

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