Western Pennsylvania leaf collection requires residents' help

| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 10:26 a.m.

Western Pennsylvania, known for its deciduous trees, is becoming ablaze in color.

Soon it will be knee-deep in leaves.

Suburban residents already are hearing the familiar rumbling engines of the powerful vacuums used by public works crews to gather autumn leaves from streets.

Making sure that the pickup runs smoothly requires public cooperation, public works officials say.

Industrial vacuums are strong enough to suck up most anything nearby, said Fox Chapel's public works director Dempsey Bruce.

Bruce said the machines are so strong, they have been known to accidentally “suck the bushes right out of the ground.”

He suggested that homeowners pile leaves away from bushes that are close to the curb.

A chipper used to cut up branches also has demonstrated its strength.

“A branch going into the chipper (once) hooked (a worker's) keys and pulled them right out of his pocket and put them through the chipper,” Bruce said.

The keys, found using a metal detector, were mostly intact but some had been “chopped up,” he said.

Fox Chapel, a town of about 5,400 people with a home ownership rate of 94.2 percent, according to the most recent census figures, gathered 458 truckloads of leaves last year.

Public works officials encourage homeowners to handle leaves according to municipal ordinances.

The rules can vary not only from town to town, but street to street within a municipality, depending on whether a homeowner lives in a busy road or a cul de sac, for example. The frequency of pickups can differ vastly as well.

Bethel Park, with about 32,400 people and an 80 percent homeownership rate, has eight pickups during the year:

The much-smaller Findlay, which has about 5,100 residents and a 78.7 percent owner-occupied housing rate, is more rural and has two pickups.

That meets regulations set by the Department of Environmental Protection to separate recyclable items from refuse, officials said. This year pickups will be on Nov. 3 and 17.

Many municipalities have specific dates for pickup. Residents are notified about the pickups through newsletters and e-mail.

Other municipalities run their trucks on a call-by-call basis. Butler officials said they do it that way to fit the cycle of trees: Some will shed sooner than others so a schedule would not be beneficial.

“Mother Nature is the problem; she won't drop all the leaves at the same time,” said Ralph Graham, Butler's Street Department director.

When Butler receives enough phone calls from a particular street, a truck will be sent to pick up the leaves. Residents are appreciative, Graham said.

“Very seldom we get thanks but with the way things are running now for this particular program,we will get calls to the office thanking us for picking up the leaves,” said Graham.

“People love the program,” said Public Works Director Tom Kelley of Mt. Lebanon, which last year picked up 1,300 truckloads of leaves, or 17,000 cubic yards.

“If anything, the questions are ‘Can you come more frequently?'”

Matt DeFusco is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-849-1482 or mdefusco@tribweb.com.

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