Booth Playground Closed

Town officials are concerned about the trash piling up at sites like the Booth Playground.

Insisting that pandemic-related safety issues have them over a proverbial barrel, town officials this week lamented an avalanche of trash littering recreational fields and other public lands.

But while they concurred that current conditions are unacceptable, unsightly and unsanitary, some town leaders remained at odds over how to best manage the growing garbage.

According to public works Director Christopher Gallagher, the town highway department normally is responsible for emptying 150 barrels — enough to fill a pair of 30-yard dumpsters — scattered throughout town twice a week.

Town Manager William Keegan told selectmen that routine had been suspended after Gov. Charlie Baker imposed guidelines aimed at discouraging public gatherings to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

“We don’t want to put employees in harm’s way, but we don’t want trash on local fields either,” Keegan said.

As a result, the board of recreation adopted a “carry-in, carry-out” policy that directs visitors to remove their own trash while at local playing fields — with mixed results.

“I know there are a number of areas around town where trash is just being left which is unacceptable,” selectmen Chairman Mark Elfman said.

Recreation board member Doug Suess said conditions at the Payson Road complex are especially bad, with residents using playing fields to relieve their dogs and visitors engaged in public drinking.

“There’s stuff all over the place,” Suess remarked.

The issue has become more acute with the end of the school year, the arrival of warmer weather and the relaunch of the town’s youth baseball program.

Recreation Director Deborah Giardino said she expects it to worsen in early July when the state’s Phase 3 threshold allows some facilities, such as the town skate park, to reopen.

As a partial remedy, Gallagher said Foxboro’s trash hauler, United Material Management, has agreed to empty 20 rubbish barrels at Booth Playground and the Payson Road recreation complex, adding the firm has agreed to provide service at no cost while state restrictions remain in effect.

“We need some level of relief so the situation doesn’t get worse than it is now,” he said.

Gallagher further explained the only town-owned trash receptacles still being emptied by highway personnel are located on the Common, mainly because they are permanently embedded in concrete.

“The kind of trash that’s in those receptacles, on a good day it’s gross, never mind when there is a pandemic,” Gallagher said.

“I really feel adamant about not emptying the barrels,” added David LaLiberte, who oversees the tree and park department. “People throw everything in those barrels. It’s nasty.”

Characterizing the gesture as a welcome first step, Selectwoman Stephanie McGowan nonetheless observed that resuming collections with 20 barrels could hardly be expected to resolve a problem of this magnitude.

McGowan, who was just elected two weeks ago in the annual town elections, said she had reached out to a number of area communities, all of which continue to collect rubbish on public land.

“It sounds to me like you guys just don’t want to pick up the trash anymore,” she said.

But both Gallagher and LaLiberte stuck to their guns, arguing that all personnel under their supervision have scrupulously adhered to health guidelines adopted both locally and statewide.

They were backed by Assistant Town Manager Michael Johns who warned the town could be held liable if an employee contracted the coronavirus while collecting trash.

Ultimately, selectmen agree to a two-week trial, during which UMM will be responsible for twice-weekly trash pickup while the board of recreation’s carry-in, carry-out policy will be reinforced.

At that point, Keegan said, selectmen always can expand the number of pickup locations if needed, with the town picking up the tab for expanded service.

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