(Courtesy the Lawrence Township Facebook page.)

Updates to Lawrence Township’s brush collection program sparked controversy with residents earlier this year.

Smaller allowances and strickter enforcement, including fines and a roving code officer, resulted in residents voicing displeasure with town hall. But township manager Kevin Nerwinski hopes a couple of months and more thorough information will make the transition smoother.

“We’ve had a brush program for years,” Nerwinski said. “What’s happened over the years is our accommodation of residents to not follow the rules has spiraled out of control because we weren’t enforcing and when we did try to enforce, the backlash was significant, and there was just no will to fight.”

“We wanted to preserve this service, and the only way to preserve it is if we enforce it
and educate the residents.”

Before the new parameters were set, Nerwinski said township officials publicized the changes through three public hearings, posted notices on the Lawrence Township website and social media accounts and mailed out notices with residents’ tax bills.

“Over the last two years, we’ve had significant increases in our brush pickup that has caused our ecological center to overflow, that causes us to actually have to pay to have it disposed at another facility.”

Nerwinski said the past year’s excess costs totaled $40,000, largely because landscaping companies based in other towns came to Lawrence and “dumped it on our streets” to avoid disposal costs.

“Last year and the years before, all of a sudden, these enormous piles of brush were seen all over the town,” Nerwinski said. “I had a concern about the safety. There are walkers in our town, kids walking all over the place.”

Some of those safety concerns include visibility and brush covering or falling into storm drains. Nerwinski also said residents tended to put brush out on the curb the day after their zone was picked up, meaning brush would be left out for a month.

“There became a really strong need to make reasonable restrictions on the brush pickup,” Nerwinski said. “We wanted to preserve this service, and the only way to preserve it is if we actually start enforcing and educating the residents.”

Piles are now limited to three feet in height (previously four) and 12 feet in length. Individual limbs are limited to three feet in length. Brush must be placed no more than four feet away from the street, and piles should be placed at the curb the weekend before that zone is scheduled for pickup. Specific zoning information and a full list of the regulations can be found at lawrencetwp.com or by calling (609) 587-1894.

If a standard is not followed, the code enforcement officer will notify the resident. If changes are not made, fines could follow.

Nerwinski said the process has been “difficult” and accompanied by “a lot of angry phone calls” from residents who feel insulted by the fines and notifications as taxpayers.

“They don’t like when I say, ‘You don’t pay taxes to violate our laws,’” he said. “It’s all designed to preserve the program, and that’s what we’re trying to do. In years past, someone would demand to get it picked up because we didn’t want to fight.”

However, Nerwinski said that 90 percent of residents follow the rules, and he doesn’t think any residents will receive court summonses. As long as homeowners adapt to the changes, he said, the new program will be running smoothly by the fall.

“There’s only one day that you put out your garbage cans, and everybody seems able to comply with that,” he said. “Why can’t you comply with the brush?”