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FairfaxVienna doing away with mulch program

Vienna doing away with mulch program

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Vienna residents still will have curbside leaf collection this fall, but the town will not provide free mulch afterward.

Following years of declining mulch demand and neighbors’ complaints about the town’s mulching facility on Beulah Road, N.E., the Vienna Town Council voted 7-0 July 11 to eliminate the leaf-mulching program for the next year.

Vienna public-works crews will collect the leaves as usual, store them temporarily at the mulching facility, and then use town-owned or rented trucks to ship the leaves to a disposal site.

“I don’t see any economic or environmental justification whatsoever for continuing the mulching,” said Council member Charles Anderson, citing residents’ low interest in paying for the town’s mulch. “It’s something that’s costing the town and causing a lot of issues with the people who live by [the mulching facility].”

Public-works officials recently distributed surveys to 303 previous mulch customers and received comments from 114, a 37-percent response rate, said Vienna Public Works Director Michael Gallagher. Sixty-two respondents said they would be willing to pay for the mulch and 52 said they would not.

Since the Council last reviewed the matter this spring, gas prices have surged and leaf-disposal costs have risen from $30 per ton, but the cost of renting trucks from Fairfax County has decreased, at least temporarily, Gallagher said.

The town’s previous discussions regarding the mulching site were based on supposition and relied on average costs, which no longer seem to be in effect, said Council member Steve Potter.

“An ‘average’ was always described to me as having one foot in ice water and the other one in boiling water and being comfortable,” he said. “That is not a good way to come up with decisions.”

Using a rental fleet to take 25 cubic yards of leaves to the disposal site would cost the town $138.02 per hour, about 40 percent less than the $192.81 per hour it would cost using town vehicles to ferry the leaves, Potter said.

“Rental trucks have higher capacity,” he said, allowing them take fewer trips, travel fewer miles and use less fuel. “It’s far more efficient to be able to do that.”

Potter advanced the motion for the new leaf-collection regimen, and called on town staff to use the most efficient possible combination of town-owned and rental trucks for short-hauling of leaves within the town and long-hauling them to the disposal site.

Council member Ray Brill Jr. liked Potter’s motion as a short-term solution, but said the town needed to consider the long-term use of the Beulah Road site.

“We need to be aware that piece of property has better uses,” he said.
The mulching controversy reared up in a couple of recent Town Council elections, with some challengers pressing to close the Beulah Road facility and turn that site into a park. That is only one of numerous possible outcomes, said Council member Howard Springsteen.

“This is not those residents’ private park,” Springsteen said. “It’s a town property, and who knows? It could be [used for] athletic fields. We could sell that property for developers and make $20 million.”

Council members then unanimously approved a motion Anderson put forth to have the town’s staff and Conservation and Sustainability Commission study the environmental and economic costs and benefits of having residents mulch leaves on their own properties, then prepare a plan to increase on-site mulching in the town.

This option has “by far the lowest carbon footprint and the best result,” Anderson said. “From an economic standpoint, it’s also the cheapest because we don’t incur the costs of picking [the leaves] up and all the rest.”

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