Hearthwood will have leaf collection box

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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ON THE WEB

• Coupons for free leaf drop-offs at recycling centers: www.clark.wa.gov/environment/documents/LeafDisposalCoupon.pdf

When it comes to leaves, "We have more than our share," Laura Albright said.

Albright is chairwoman of the Hearthwood Neighborhood Association, and her judgment is supported by data from the city of Vancouver.

The neighborhood in east Vancouver officially has more than the city's average share of leaves, as measured by an aerial survey of tree canopies.

This fall, Hearthwood residents will have another option for getting rid of those leaves. Vancouver is expanding an annual solid-waste program, adding Hearthwood to the list of neighborhoods scheduled for a weekend leaf collection box.

The huge bins have been deployed around Vancouver for several autumns in heavily treed neighborhoods.

"We've gradually expanded it, in part because trees planted 20 or 30 years ago have gotten bigger," said Elsie Deatherage, a solid waste analyst with the city's public works department. "There are more leaves in people's yards and in the streets."

Which describes Hearthwood.

"We are very treed over, with a lot of native big-leaf maples," Albright said. "Big trees. Lots of leaves."

According to a 2010 study of the city's urban tree canopy, 23.5 percent of Hearthwood's surface area as seen from the air is covered by tree canopy.

"The city average is 18.6 percent," Vancouver's urban forester Charles Ray said. Those canopy totals include evergreens, Ray added, so not all the trees contribute to the leaf issue.

However, even one really big maple tree can be a lot to deal with, Deatherage said.

The problem gets compounded by mixed messages in the Portland-Vancouver media market.

"People can be confused by what they see on Portland TV news. In some leafy Portland neighborhoods, people are told to rake their leaves into the street and are charged a fee to have them picked up. People sometimes assume it's the same way" in Vancouver, Deatherage said. "But we don't want people to rake them into the street."

Clark County is not offering drop boxes for leaf disposal, said Jeff Mize, county public works spokesman. The county urges people to keep leaves out of the streets. Fallen leaves aren't just an issue of tidiness: they're an issue of public safety.

"Leaves can block storm drains and cause localized street flooding, which in turn creates hazardous driving conditions," Mize said.

That's why the county and city both offer free leaf-disposal programs. Using coupons printed in neighborhood newsletters or available online, people can haul their raked-up leaves to several recycling centers.

But that option doesn't work for everybody, Albright said, even when they have helpful neighbors.

Many Hearthwood residents who have trailers frequently volunteer to haul their neighbors' leaves down to one of the recycling operations; but a drop box is easier.

"It saves worrying about tarps and bungee cords" to secure a leaf-filled trailer, Albright said. "Run it down the street and be done with it."

Hearthwood's leaf box will be the weekend of Nov. 16-17.

The 30-cubic-foot boxes already are part of the city's public works inventory, Deatherage said.

"They're used during the week, in conjunction with street sweeping," Deatherage said. Their first deployment in this season's leaf program will be in the Lincoln neighborhood, in the first weekend of November.

"It's dropped off on a Friday afternoon and picked up on Monday morning," Deatherage said. The drop boxes are marked with signs advising: "Leaves only."

Public works officials had some qualms early in the program, Deatherage said: "People who see a drop box see it as a free place to dump."

Drop-box users have been good about following the guidelines, though.

"We've had a few times where people have left yard debris," Deatherage said. "Nothing horrible like a refrigerator or sacks of garbage."

Last year, residents of those city neighborhoods dropped 1,200 cubic yards of leaves into the boxes -- the equivalent of 40 topped-off containers. That's still a fraction of the haul-your-own total, however.

"In the leaf coupon program, city residents redeemed 3,150 coupons, dropping off 5,847 cubic yards of leaves," Deatherage said.