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Late-falling leaves a headache for Wauwatosa

Dec. 4, 2013

Leaves fell late this year, making more work for the Public Works Department, Public Works Director William Porter said.

In a typical year, city work crews make three passes through the city, beginning in mid-October and ending by Thanksgiving. Each pass usually takes eight or nine business days.

This year, the crews made five passes, extending leaf pickup into this month.

"It's not a complicated operation," Porter said. "You just can't pick them up until the leaves fall, and we had a late leaf fall."

Crews started on time — after the last yard waste collection — but the early pickup rounds were low-volume collections, taking just three or four days. When the leaves started to come down, the crews had to keep making rounds to stay abreast of it.

The last pass ended Monday, and, until midweek, sweeper trucks were still cleaning the residual leaves off the street, some of which had frozen to the pavement.

Following the map

The city sets a deadline for raking leaves into the street — this year Nov. 17 — which represents when the last pass starts. It is usually posted on the city home page, at On a linked page, a color-coded map lays out the order of collection by neighborhood.

"We may not get to you for eight or nine days" after the posted deadline. "It just depends where we are in the cycle and where the last pass stops," Porter said.

An unusual year

This year was unusual.

"It took us longer to get the last pass this year, because the volume was much heavier than in the past because of the late fall of leaves," he said. Porter had crews picking up leaves the Friday, Saturday and Monday after Thanksgiving.

The city's four crews each have two people. One operates a small, articulated tractor, usually with a front-end brush attachment. That employee pushes the leaves up a ramp into a rear-loading garbage truck, operated by the other employee. Sometimes on the last pass a third employee is used, on foot, wielding a rake.

A sweeper truck comes along after the last pass to do the "fine cleaning," Porter said.

The city also uses "a leaf sucker, that'll do ditches and dead ends," he said.

Not quite continuous

Leaf collection season is almost all-consuming.

"I think we took one or two days off, because at the beginning we made our passes in short order and it made no sense to send people out to pick up minor things. We sent our crews out on other things that needed to get done," he said. "Ninety-five percent of the time, from mid-October through Thanksgiving, our operations crews pretty much picked up leaves and garbage and recycling, and that's about it."

Snow adds to the work.

"When it melts and then freezes, the leaves stick together and they freeze to the pavement, so that when we send our brooms down there, it leaves a trail, which we have in parts of the city," he said. "That's why our sweeper's out now, because it's warmed up."

An inconvenient climate

Porter said Mother Nature can be highly inconvenient.

"Old-timers tell me there have been occasions when we haven't finished the last pass and we've had a plowable snow. Well, that's not good because people rake their leaves into the street, and then we plow it back into their yards and driveway, because we have to clear the street. And that causes a lot of angst."

So far, in his tenure, he hasn't faced this.

Porter said doing five passes to pick up leaves doesn't cost more than doing three — but it does mean less work of other kinds gets done — street patching, grate cleaning, and on and on.

"There's always something more that needs to be done," he said.

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