File photo: Peter Blasl

The Riverhead Town Board will “direct and require” Highway Superintendent George Woodson to perform loose leaf pickup this year in a resolution to be acted on during a special town board meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m., according to a meeting notice posted on the town’s website today.

The argument between Woodson and the board to conduct the pickup has been going on for years. Woodson argued that the pickup is not a highway department function, but a sanitation function. Town board members argue the department has been doing it since 1962, it has enough reserve funding to conduct the pickup and the pickup benefits senior citizens who cannot hire landscapers or bag leaves themselves for pickup by the town’s garbage collection contractor. [See prior coverage]

The public has an opportunity to make comments on the resolution in person at Town Hall before the board votes. Residents can speak on any matter of concern after the Town Board votes on the resolution.

Woodson said prior that he based his opinion on the opinion of David Orr, the director of the New York’s Local Technical Assistance Program, which is part of the Federal Highway Administration and runs out of Cornell University. Orr said the dispute comes down to whether the pickup benefits the town’s highways or not. 

He also said the board has the power to ask the superintendent to do additional work that is not a highway function, but the highway budget must be reimbursed for its cost. Woodson said he would do the pickup if the highway department was reimbursed for the work, which he said totaled around $400,000. It is unclear whether the town board will transfer money from the general fund to reimburse the department.

In the past Woodson has given in as December approaches. However last year, he agreed to take care of the pickup with the understanding that the highway department would not be responsible for it in 2021.

Woodson is retiring from his position at the end of this year. His deputy, Mike Zaleski, was elected to replace him last week on the Republican ticket.

Woodson did not return calls seeking comment before this article was published.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]