Leaf pickup program exceeds expectations all the way around

Sean C. Morgan

The city’s new leaf program has been a complete success, according to Public Works Director Greg Springman.

So much so, he said, that the new program won’t need any adjustments going into the next year.

This year is the first time that the City of Sweet Home has offered a leaf pickup program. The program started Oct. 1 and will end Dec. 15.

Instead of telling residents to keep fallen leaves out of the streets to keep storm drains clear, the city encouraged residents to put their leaves in the streets, a foot from the curb to allow for drainage, and to call Public Works for pickup.

Public Works employees mounted a leaf vacuum on a trailer that can be towed by a pickup or dump truck to pick up the leaves.

Public Works had 171 calls and picked up 565.75 cubic yards of leaves during November, Springman said. Total, Public Works has had around 250 calls. Some were repeat calls to pick up additional leaves.

“It was a successful program,” Springman said. “I think the window (October to December) we had worked well.”

Public Works has gotten most of it, he said, although it’s still picking up a few stragglers.

Public Works often fielded 10 calls a day in addition to requests through the Citizen Portal on the city’s website, said Administrative Assistant Rebecca Swoboda. Public Works often had a response time of two hours.

When Public Works employees arrived, residents were often still out blowing leaves into the pile on the street, Springman said. “We were being too responsive.”

The instant results to calls for service has made it “fun answering the phone,” Swoboda said. “It’s wonderful interacting with (the customers.”

Springman said the department has tracked the work that’s been performed “and holding ourselves accountable.”

Employees, who took turns responding, haven’t had to spend too much time on the work either.

“Literally, large piles would take about 15 to 20 minutes,” Springman said. “Small piles were literally less than five minutes – pull up, suck them up and go.”

Wet leaves were only a minor problem, he said. To pick up wet leaves, employees needed only to increase the power on the pump, burning a little more fuel.

That’s better than in other cities, where large trucks burning diesel fuel are dedicated to picking up leaves, he said. Here, the vehicle can be turned off during the pickup. Those dedicated vehicles scoop the leaves, so they’re less effective, leaving behind 10 to 15 percent of a leaf pile. The vacuum gets virtually everything.

The program provides the city with useful material too, Springman said. “We’re going to be able to reuse those materials.”

The leaves can be composted and mixed to create soil for use in city parks and city property, he said, the same way the materials the city pulls from parks and fallen debris from wind storms are ground and can be used on trails.

Using the leaves means the city doesn’t need to buy mulch or topsoil, Springman said – at least that’s the direction the city is headed.

He anticipated Public Works would need to make some adjustments, he said, but it worked fine. Next year, the program will work the same way.

Public Works must still keep an eye out for clogged storm drains, Springman said. It doesn’t take many leaves to block a small grate.

But the program provides other benefits, he said. Residents get rid of their leaves, and the city receives material it can use as mulch. It also helps satisfy Oregon Department of Environmental Quality requirements to keep organics and pollutants out of the drainage system and rivers.

“It exceeded not only my expectations, but the staff’s,” Springman said. He expected hiccups, but there were only very small ones – which had to do with the age of vehicles rather than the program itself.

“I couldn’t ask for better. I’m surprised.”

For more information, visit the city’s website at sweet-home.or.us or call Public Works at (541) 367-6359.