Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Paying For Free Leaf Pickup

Jo Gro, our city’s composting operation, will soon be under the management of Republic Waste Services, minus the sewage bio solids that it was originally started to make use of.  Those will be hauled by Republic to Dry Creek Landfill to make methane for electricity generation.  The city will be running Jo Gro long enough to decompose the rest of their bio solids, and then lease the operation to Republic, who will run it as a regular composting service.

A pile of leaf bags on the street

 One might expect “free” leaf pickup to go away, since it was instituted to provide material for Jo Gro to help decompose those bio solids.  But leaves will be picked up by Republic and Southern Oregon Sanitation from the curb for free as part of their franchise agreements with the City, as they always have.  The only difference is that they will be free to take them to any DEQ-approved composter, to seek the best price for dumping. 

Such “free” leaf hauling was part of the subsidy for Jo Gro, but wasn’t counted as part of it, because it was being paid for, not by the city, but by the residents as part of the cost of our waste hauling service.  Jo Gro will apparently continue to be subsidized by hauling leaves for free, but Republic will be the single composter to benefit, while Southern Oregon Compost will have to compete without such a subsidy, against a composter who doesn’t use biosolids anymore.

The city does not like to compete with private business, and presumably does not want their monopoly franchisees to compete unfairly with other businesses as well.  There are other small businessmen, gardeners and landscape maintainers, who would haul yard waste for residents for a small fee, as well as contractors like Aspire, whom the waste services use to haul leaves and trimmings now.  Republic even has its own yard waste service that more people would buy if the free service stopped.

Maple and plum leaves spread as mulch on the border

Those who haul their own trash to the transfer station don’t pay for free leaf pickup, but they get their leaves picked up if they put them on the curb.  Everyone who pays for regular trash service must pay for leaf pickup as well, whether they use it or not.  This gardener uses leaves for mulch and picks up leaves from the curb for her customers, using them to stop weeds, so we have to pay for a service we don’t use and beat that service to the leaves we need.

Pine needles are much used in the Southeast for mulch

Leaves are not waste and should not be wasted on compost.  Before Jo Gro existed, the city encouraged the use of leaves as mulch.  Leaves are still the best mulch for stopping weeds, and we should use them for mulch, not compost.  The City should stop this franchisee subsidy of a single composter at the expense of landscape maintenance, those who do it, and our customers.

Unfinished work killed two girls

Kids play in a pile of leaves.  It’s so common, it’s a cliché in the funny papers every fall.  So normal that a dad was taking pictures of his daughters playing in one, without thinking about the fact that they were playing in the street.  So obvious that an 18-year old, still a kid but driving with her brothers, drove through that pile, not thinking about what might be in it.  She felt a bump, probably thought she ran over a big stick, and drove the few blocks home before having her brother check for damage.  This happened last week in Forest Grove on October 20th.
Everyone was careless in this accident: the kids for playing in the street; their father for letting them; the girl for driving over the leaves; but first and most of all, the school district for leaving a pile of leaves in the street, an attractive nuisance that did what attractive nuisances do: attract careless youngsters into danger.
This is just one egregious example of the consequences of disconnected public landscape maintenance.  One worker piles up leaves and expects that a crew will be brought to take them away.  But no one is in charge of making sure that gets done immediately, and it can sit for days or weeks before it gets done, often after citizen complaints.
Businesses generally don’t leave basic landscape maintenance jobs like leaf cleanup half-done even for one day, much less over the weekend.  They have to look at it, and they expect their maintenance people to finish a job before they leave. 
Governments do so routinely.  Their properties are spread over wide areas; their workers are focused on their tasks; and their contractors are narrowly focused on their contracts.  No one is in charge of making sure that landscape maintenance gets done in a timely, professional manner.  Landscape maintenance is an afterthought, perpetually underfunded or not funded at all. 
Community corrections work crews are used for work like picking up and hauling leaves, but their time is limited, both per customer and per day, and each government only gets about a day a week.  When it’s time, they have to go, regardless of how much work they have done or have yet to do. 
Leaves don’t have to be piled in the street to be dangerous.  When they fall on the street and get slick, rotting in the rain, they are a hazard to walkers.  I have slipped on them; so has my daughter, walking to work in the early mornings.  Drivers skid in them too. 
          Residential property owners and residents are the worst for leaving their leaves to rot in the street.  Grants Pass doesn’t yet have a code forbidding leaving leaves on streets long enough for them to begin to rot.  Do we have to have somebody die from a fall, or hit by a skidding driver, to pass such a code?