Slim pickin’s at Shelter Island dump

A prohibition against public picking in any Recycling Center piles except the goody pile went into effect Tuesday.
CARA LORIZ PHOTO | A prohibition against public picking in any Recycling Center piles except the goody pile went into effect Tuesday.

The goody pile is now the only section of the Shelter Island Recycling Center open to picking.

Signs prohibiting scavenging for other reusable materials were posted Tuesday, three weeks after Highway Superintendent and Public Works Commissioner Mark Ketcham first proposed the policy change to the Town Board.

Recycling foreman Brian Sherman spoke in support of the change Tuesday.

Mr. Ketcham cited two reasons for barring people from making off with metal, construction debris, tin cans, bottles and other recyclable materials the town sells. “We want the revenue,” he said. “We need the revenue.”

“The second reason is public safety,” Mr. Ketcham said. Lawsuits from residents injured while picking over recyclable material have been filed against the town, Town Attorney Laury Dowd acknowledged in February.

As reported last month, the Town Board recently called for investigations of policies and practices at Highway Department facilities by the town’s financial consultants and by the Shelter Island Police Department. The police investigation was triggered by a criminal complaint that a vehicle was stolen from the Recycling Center in December.

The police found no criminal wrongdoing, but their in-house investigation as well as the consultants’ audit found much room for improvement in how the department operates.

The goody pile will remain open for both deposits and withdrawals, Mr. Ketcham said Tuesday, although there are risks — dangerous items, such as butcher knives and broken glass, are sometimes found there, he said. “We have to step up maintaining that area so we can keep the goody pile open,” he added.

“It looked like it could use a little attention,” Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty said of the goody pile.

The policy implemented by Mr. Ketcham stipulates: “With the exception of the goody area, there is to be no salvaging, scavenging and/or picking of recyclables by any person, including both employees and members of the public. This policy applies to employees both during work hours and after work hours.”

The policy specifically bars picking of the following: cans, plastic bottles and glass bottles, construction and demolition debris, metal — including vehicle parts — furniture, E-waste, batteries and tires.

If the public does not comply, department employees are to notify the Shelter Island Police. If an employee does not comply, “bring it to my attention and disciplinary action may result,” Mr. Ketcham stated in the policy.

The policy also reinstates fees for metal and vehicle disposal, and specifies receipts and record-keeping practices for both, including the collection of copies of a vehicle owner’s papers and title. While these fees are on the books, they have not been collected by employees, in an effort to bring in more saleable materials. Mr. Ketcham explained to the Reporter that he recently learned he cannot waive those fees, which are set by Town Board resolution.

The new policy calls for charging disposal fees in order to comply with town resolutions, but during Tuesday’s work session, the Town Board discussed adopting a new resolution to eliminate metal and vehicle disposal fees, something the public works department would welcome.

“In the last year, we’ve only had seven vehicles” dropped off, Mr. Sherman said; he spoke in support of eliminating the $35 vehicle disposal fee.

“By dropping the fee, you’re making it easier for someone to drop off their vehicle,” Councilman Glenn Waddington said.

Mr. Sherman also suggested dropping the metal fee, which, at the current rate of a penny a pound, is “not even worth the paper … It doesn’t make any sense.”

“I agree with Brian,” Mr. Ketcham said. “Although the board members want a tracking of the metal and what’s coming in, every time you charge for something” — like brush, stumps and furniture — “there’s another complaint, another sourness put in someone’s mouth.”

“If we can eliminate that charge, and get the metal in, the revenues will come in,” he added.

“I’m worried about 200 tons coming in, but only 100 tons going out,” Mr. Reich said, in favor of tracking if not charging for disposal of valuable recyclables.

From the audience, Paul Shepherd commented that, with the new policy, residents are “locked out, but I’m supposed to believe that no one who works there will be picking.”

Mr. Dougherty acknowledged Mr. Shepherd’s concerns but supported the policy change by emphasizing a “basic obligation to protect the town’s assets.”