The Town of Bethlehem Highway Department still collects yard waste and makes compost despite winter weather. Submitted photo
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BETHLEHEM — As the winter season looms, the town not only continues its leaf and yard waste pickup services, but also generating compost and mulch at its Selkirk compost facility, all to benefit its residents.
John “Tiger” Anastasi, the town’s Highway Superintendent, said that he and his team were prepared for the snow which first fell on Nov. 16, as well as the recent heavy rainfall.
“Prior to [Nov.] 16th, we had already gone through the whole town and its 16 zones four times with our leaf-collecting trucks,” he said. “Once the snow came, everything came to a standstill. But up to the 16th, the leaves had not fallen from the trees completely.”
He said that the town has at least seven leaf-vacuuming trucks—which collect an annual average volume of 300 cubic yards of leaves—and at least four packer trucks, which resemble garbage trucks, that collect residents’ brush and yard waste-filled brown bags.
He explained that it typically takes his team 10 days to cover the whole town on one loop. It was four days into its latest loop when the snow arrived. “We had to bring all the trucks back, change them into plows for the snow and get back out there,” he said. “It was a fight right along. The guys worked day and night.”
Once the trucks collect all the leaves and brush, they return to the compost facility, located on 1244 Feura Bush Road in Selkirk, where they dump and pile them up. The sustainable process of converting the collected masses into compost takes about a year, according to Anastasi.
“We turn the leaves and brush every couple of weeks, or windmill them,” he explained. “But in winter, that process takes a little longer. The warmer its gets, it all breaks down quicker. That’s why we keeping turning it. You can’t turn as much in winter as the snow acts like an insulator and holds in the heat.”
The process results in three main compost products.
The first is “Bethlehem’s Choice” Screened Compost which comes from the collected brush, yard waste and spring leaves. According to the town’s website it is beneficial for mulching or top dressing for landscaping and all kinds of gardens. It enriches soil texture and fertility. This product is popular among landscaping companies and homeowners.
The second is “Garden Gold” Leaf Compost, made from the vacuumed fall leaves, which can augment any vegetable or flower garden. It can be mixed with sand or new topsoil to birth new gardens too. It is often utilized by contractors to produce topsoil, control erosion, and help any construction project if needed.
The last is “Natural Blend” Wood Mulch, resulting from double-ground logs and wood chips that came from trees and brush, which is ideal for landscaping and battling weeds.
For the full list of rates for Bethlehem residents, non-Bethlehem residents, commercial buyers and more, visit https://www.townofbethlehem.org/356/Rates.
Overall, compost has many benefits including soil enrichment, soil moisture maintenance, erosion prevention, weed suppression and discouraging residents from using chemical fertilizers.
When asked whether the compost facility has ever collected too many leaves which would then create too much compost beyond its physical capacity, Anastasi said that has never happened before. If such a situation arises, he said that the facility would “do more bulk sales of the compost and put them to bids. Lots of bigger contractors and vendors do come buy in bulk. That could always help us if we have too much.”
Through it all, Anastasi wanted to specifically shout out to his team for being some of the town’s “unsung heroes for putting in the work all the time to serve Bethlehem. They don’t get enough credit.”
Furthermore, he noted that the town is getting larger and requiring the need for more sidewalks and roads, which, in turn, mean more places to collect leaves and plow snow. “But the Highway Department hasn’t grown much recently. We’re low on manpower, yet, there’s a lot more maintenance to do,” he said.
He concluded that Bethlehem is a great town though because of services like having people’s leaves collected and having a compost facility, which is responsible for developing compost products in an environmental way.
“Residents here have those perks and it’s one of the few towns left around here that still collect their leaves regularly. But those services are costly, and take up a lot of time and manpower,” he said. “Albany stopped maybe and Guilderland does it to some degree. Not many towns do that anymore.”