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Saw Mill River Cleanup Sparks Controversy

GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Greenburgh and Elmsford are currently undergoing a mass cleanup of the Saw Mill River, but some residents say that the efforts are absurdly overdue.

The last major cleaning occurred in 2006, a town official confirmed. Over the past five years, the river has accumulated dirt, junk, algae and debris. Town Supervisor Paul Feiner said that the river was filled with Styrofoam, plastic bottles, recyclable materials, trees, glass, oil tanks and tires.

One Greenburgh resident, Hal Samis, spoke up at Wednesday's town board meeting and said that he feels like it took August's Hurricane Irene to finally spur the board into action to do something about the mess. Samis said that he views the current cleanup simply as a response to Hurricane Irene, but not as a project that the town felt necessary to act on prior to the hurricane.

The years of debris are now requiring a lot of man power and time. As of last week, 640 hours had been spent cleaning; another 360 hours are projected before completion, Feiner said. Workers have carted off approximately 10 trucks of debris, with another four to go.

The time and removal speak to the damage that the Saw Mill River has collected over the past five years, as only one-half mile has been cleaned so far, beginning south of Babbitt Court. The town expects to clean another half-mile, where the Saw Mill River Parkway meets I-87.

"It's an ongoing project," said Victor Carosi, commissioner of the department of public works. "We're going to keep working at it."

The town plans to get as much debris out of the Saw Mill River as possible, said Carosi, but rain, sleet and other bad weather could limit their endeavor on certain days.

However, regardless of the current efforts, Samis still wonders why it took five years, and five years before that in 2001, to clean the Saw Mill River.

According to Feiner, in 2006, the town was concentrated on getting a grant from the government for flood relief. Now, he said, the Town Board has learned that a cleanup should be done on a regular basis.

New York State Senator Charles Schumer is pushing for FEMA reimbursement for local costs caused by Hurricane Irene's damage. However, Greenburgh is still waiting for reimbursement from FEMA in the amount of $875,000 from a storm in early 2010. For the Saw Mill River cleanup, the town expects to spend nearly $30,000 in labor costs and an additional $5,000 to dispose the waste.

The village of Hastings has expressed interest in clearing their stretch of the Saw Mill River and will speak with town officials to begin the process.

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