New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
CLEAN UP DEJA VU
Illegal dumping a constant problem for city crews
“We go to the same spots every Monday. ... Once you catch up, the weekend comes and you fall right back again.”
Public Works supervisor Steve Mustakos
NEW HAVEN — Early in the morning, on a day you could flash-fry an egg on the hood of your truck, city Public Works supervisor Steve Mustakos’ cleanup crew was out on Wallace
Street, along the backside of the graffiti-covered old New Haven Clock Co. factory, picking up other people’s illegally-dumped junk.
Wilfredo Perez, a payloader operator who has worked for city for 27 years, worked the big machine into a big pile of ratty couches, bald tires, busted coolers, discarded plastic shelving, rolled-up carpeting and a hay bale or two, taking bites out of it, then maneuvering the payloader over to a big tractor-trailer and dropping in the junk.
As he did so, laborer Chris Santiago, who has done this for 22 years, and Scott Murphy, who has done it for 27, were armed with a push broom and a shovel, helping to round up any straggling trash and push it into Perez’s giant bucket.
Forty-five minutes later, when they finished, it looked a lot better.
But guess what? By Monday, it will look just like that, all over again.
And there are other spots in New Haven — and in many communities — just like it.
In New Haven, those include Peat Meadow Road off Forbes Avenue, Russell Street in Fair Haven Heights, Exchange and Haven streets in Fair Haven, John W. Murphy Drive off Grand Avenue and James Street in Fair Haven, Wintergreen Avenue and Springside Avenue in West Rock, North Bank Street and Sherman Parkway.
“We go to the same spots every Monday,” said Mustakos, who has worked for Public Works for 18 years. “I have a list of every street we go to.
... Once you catch up, the weekend comes and you fall right back again.”
Last month, “we did about 10,000 pounds,” Mustakos said, as Laurie Lopez, who heads the department’s Public Space Inspection division, nodded her head in agreement. “That’s average, believe it or not.”
With much of the smaller stuff that gets left out in front of people’s houses, the city is finding out about it faster than it once did because of the technological wizardry of SeeClickFix, which lets people report problems and allows city staffers to respond to them.
“It assists us,” said Director of Public Works Jeff Pescosolido. “We think it’s a fabulous tool. We use it as an order management system.”
The smaller stuff — some furniture or a few household items — often is a function of people moving, which happens often in New Haven because it’s home to lots of students.
But the big stuff, often dumped by the truckload by professionals looking to save money on disposal costs — and generally too big to see on SeeClickFix — is another beast entirely.
“The bigger dumpers usually do it near the highway,” Pescosolido said.
“For big stuff, Bank Street has been getting hit hard,” said Lopez.
“We try to keep up with it,” but “sometimes it gets too far out of hand,” said Richard Christianson, superintendent of the Streets Division and a 29-year Public Works employee.
The dumping business generally appears to be seasonal and cyclical, with “peaks and valleys,” although Pescosolido said the larger-load dumping appears to be on the rise of late.
Just a few days ago,
“We went out and picked up a truckload of illegally dumped tires down at Gateway” Terminal, he said.
The ones that get Pescosolido are “more the ones where you get a dump truck ... and they drop off a full load of construction debris. Currently, those are on the rise.”
Lopez said she believes that during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, “I think people were clearing out because maybe they were home more.”
Public Works Public Information Specialist Kathy Hurley, who is the front-line person to respond to SeeClickFix complaints, said that during COVID, it also “was hard to do bulk appointments.”
Several officials pointed out that for the smaller residential stuff, people can either call the Public Works Department to make an appointment for a pickup — a service New Haven offers that many of its suburban neighbors don’t — or drop items off at the residential drop-off center at the transfer station off Middletown Avenue. Hours are 9 a.m. to noon.
“Ultimately, the owner of the property is responsible” for anything that’s dumped illegally, said Pescosolido.
Lopez said it’s rare to catch someone in the act of illegal dumping, but the material often contains things that make it identifiable.
The Public Works Department is not the dumping police — but it works with the Police Department when there’s a reason to, she said.
Keeping up with illegal dumping used to be a constant activity, but “we’ve changed the way we do it” in recent years, said Pescosolido. “We used to deal with dumping all day, every day.
Now we don’t — there’s so much of a demand to do other things right now.”
One things they’ve worked to do is forge relationships with large landlords and other property owners so that when there are problems, they can more easily take care of them, he said.
“We would love to never have trash on the streets, but one mattress begets 20 within a day or two,” Pescosolido said.
Back on the street, laborers Santiago and Murphy said they don’t mind going back to the pick other people’s stuff up from the same locations, over and over again.
“We’re so used to it,” said Murphy. “They say ‘Wallace Street,’ we know just what to look for.”
But that doesn’t mean they don’t recognize the cost of it to the city — and to the people who pay the bills.
“We could be doing other things for the taxpayers,” said Murphy.