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But How Much Does It Cost?

Citizens and Town Council seek cost estimates for leaf mulching operation.

By the end of the evening, no matter what side the citizen took, the lurking question was, how much does it cost?

That question plagued the Vienna citizens and Vienna Town Council members who listened to arguments for and against the town's leaf mulching operation on town-owned property off of Beulah Road.

Twenty-nine citizens aired their concerns about the town's leaf mulching operation Monday evening in front of the Town Council. They came in response to a $4,000 landscaping plan for the site which aimed to answer town residents' concerns over noise and air pollution coming from the leaf mulching operation.

But the majority of those who spoke Monday, most of whom lived or grew up in the northeast quadrant of Vienna where the leaf mulching site is located, said the landscaping plan failed to answer their concerns about the pollution. They asked instead for the town to consider a resolution created by the Northeast Vienna Citizens Association (NEVCA), which called for a joint task force between staff, council members and citizens to look into eventually restoring the eight-acre parcel into the natural woodlands it once was.

"We're assuming we can work together to find an alternative," said Jerry Bishop, who opposed leaf mulching at the Beulah Road site.

WHILE ALL NEVCA members who spoke insisted that they wanted the town's leaf collection and mulching to continue, they wanted the town to compare the costs between continuing leaf mulching operations at Beulah Road and moving the operations by delivering leaves to a Fairfax County leaf mulching site.

"This was never a question about not having leaf collection in the NEVCA citizens' minds," said Betty Collins.

But the few who spoke in favor of keeping the leaf mulching operation at the Beulah Road site questioned the cost of transporting the leaves off site, and countered that more pollution could occur with trucks going back and forth from the town to the site.

Vienna mayor Jane Seeman had added that the Council received 30 e-mails in favor of keeping the leaf mulching operation at the Beulah Road site.

"It seems to me the most viable solution is to continue the leaf mulching," said Jack Mitchell, who suggested getting a noise suppresser for the mulching machine.

A March 30 memo by public works director Dennis King stated that the difference between the current usage costs and mulching the leaves at the county's West Ox Road facility is 57 percent greater than current costs, at $165,000.

King added that leaf collection, mulching and delivery costs between $265,000 and $397,000, with the midpoint being $330,000. Leaf collection itself costs between $174,000 and $261,000, with the midpoint at $217,000. He estimated the cost of transporting the leaves to the county's West Ox facility and delivering it back to residents to be between $339,000 and $236,000, with the midpoint at $382,000.

But NEVCA citizens countered that they wanted to see cost comparisons itemized, and compared with leaf mulching costs from other jurisdictions.

"No supporting documentation is included in the memo of the cost estimates to truck and dump leaves at Fairfax County's West Ox Road Facility, and delivery of mulch back to Town residents," wrote Vienna resident Ray Collins in a flyer circulated at the meeting.

THE ISSUE of continuing the leaf mulching operation at the Beulah Road site began in July 2003, when neighbors to the site discovered storage by the town of materials and debris from the Maple Avenue Enhancement Project. While the town cleaned up the site and later apologized for the mess, the problem continued as the town began using a $131,000 industrial-sized tub grinder it had purchased earlier that spring, which generated much greater noise and air pollution than the smaller tub grinder which had proceeded it, citizens argued.

Citizens also questioned the environmental impact of the leaf mulching operation on the site, observing that the woods in the middle of the property have cleared progressively each year since leaf mulch was stored there in the early 1990s.

Seeman had said in her introductory notes prior to the public hearing that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality found no violations on the site last winter.

The next step for the Town Council is to examine the public testimony and create and compare cost analysis data, Seeman said after the public hearing.