The city budgets $1.8 million a year for mechanical leaf collection. Pray for no snow

Mechanical leaf collection in parts of Etobicoke and Scarborough starts next week, as long as the weather plays along.

Every November, the city dispatches front-end loaders, dump trucks and workers with rakes to the most heavily-treed areas of the city, to scoop up leaves piled at the curb instead of stuffed into bags.

It may seem like a frill, but it’s a service that was provided in Etobicoke and Scarborough prior to amalgamation, and was part of the deal when those municipalities joined the newly amalgamated “megacity” in 1998.

It’s more than a unique service. The sheer volume of leaves in areas that get it are enough to plug up catch basins and cause flooding, if a special effort isn’t made to clear them from the street.

But a lot of streets in those areas ended up with mounds of curbside leaves that weren’t picked up last fall, when a major snowstorm blanketed the city with 15 centimetres last Nov. 11, followed by a second snowstorm about a week later.

Mark Mills, a city road operations manager, recalled that last November was a wintry month, which bogged down the city’s schedule for mechanical leaf collection.

“Weather does play a huge role in delivering this program,” said Mills. “Last year we had early snow, it got very cold and the leaves froze to the snow.

“So we made another attempt into December and tried to do our best (but) we were picking up snow that had piles of leaves in it. The service wasn’t what we had provided in the past, but we did make an attempt to get to all the streets and I do recognize that it wasn’t the best end product.”

The city budgets $1.8 million annually for mechanical collection. About $1.6 million of it is spent on collection in Etobicoke, with the remainder for streets along the Scarborough bluffs.

“It’s in our best interest, as road operations people, to get the leaves off the streets. If we don’t, we’ll have a problem with drainage.”

Mills stressed that they don’t want leaves piled on the roadway, but instead left on the boulevard inside the curb, where it can easily be raked onto the street and scooped up by city staff.

The city webpage on mechanical collection includes a street-by-street schedule for removal, but it also states unequivocally that: “This year’s leaf collection will be cancelled if there is an early significant snowfall.”

So if you’re counting in it, keep your fingers crossed for good weather.

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