WESTFIELD, NJ — The mayor is standing by the town’s controversial decision not to pick up residential storm debris following Tropical Storm Isaias.

At Tuesday’s online council meeting, Mayor Shelley Brindle acknowledged residents’ objections to the decision, something she said was based on the public works department’s ability to pick up the large amount of debris.

“It was more based on limited capacity than financial constraints, although that was a consideration in light of the budget cuts that we made due to the pandemic,” Brindle said. “It is important to note that every town has different issues, resources and capabilities.”

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In Mountainside, Scotch Plains, and Fanwood storm debris pickup started Monday, the towns announced. On Aug. 5, both Cranford and Clark announced the townships would be assisting residents with curbside pickup of storm debris. On Facebook Wednesday, Garwood's mayor thanked the borough's DPW for cleaning up all storm debris left curbside.

However, Brindle said that in Westfield, in addition to more than 10,000 trees in municipal parks, the town has over 7,500 trees lining its streets that it must maintain.

“Our DPW first has to secure all of our own town trees and … make sure everything is safe before we can even get to the street debris,” she said.

Municipal officials estimated they would not be able to clean up residential street debris for several weeks and, Brindle said, landscapers would likely dump their non storm debris into street “creating piles that become street hazards.”

“This is exactly what happened in 2018 and, if you recall, it led to a tremendous amount of residential complaints about piles in the streets,” she said. “I remember they were knee-high, and chin-high in some cases and how long it took to do the pickup because of that.”

Brindle acknowledged that surrounding towns are providing pickup of storm debris and said Westfield needs to find a better solution for future storms.

Due to the lack of pickup, the town is allowing for residents to drop off debris at the DPW’s Conservation Center without the typically required permit until Sunday, Aug. 23, Brindle said.

Not everyone was pleased with the explanation. Carleton Road resident John Blake told the council he recalls the town picking up residential storm debris for the 50 years he has lived in Westfield.

“You can’t tell people that debris that is piled up in front of their house in the street has to be taken by them in their passenger cars,” Blake said. “We don’t all own trucks. We don’t all have saws and power tools that are necessary to cut these things up.”

While the town is not picking residential debris, some residents have been helping their neighbors with the task, including through Lifelong Westfield, a group formed by the Mayor’s Senior Advisory Council.

On Saturday, Councilman David Contract posted to Facebook that along with Lifelong Westfield co-chair Brad Chananie, recreation events specialist Lauren Harmer and other volunteers, he helped to pick up debris.

“It's gratifying to help out our seniors and more importantly to help one another during these challenging times,” Contract said. “Our collective sense of community is more important than ever to help us all manage through whatever crisis occurs.”

James Leitner, who lives nearby in Scotch Plains, heard about the need and posted to social media that he has power tools and is available to help. Leitner told TAPinto Westfield he had over 30 requests for assistance, and he anticipates he'll be back helping out on Thursday.

“I have gotten everything from small tree branches to entire trees being asked to be cut up,” Leitner said.

Seniors who would like assistance through Lifelong Westfield, may email Harmer at westfieldnjseniors@gmail.com.

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh

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