St. Joseph Co. leaf pickup frustrations still piling up


If you still have huge leaf piles on your curb, they might be there a little longer. The company contracted to do leaf pick up in St. Joseph County told WSBT Tuesday it probably won't be able to start up again until the end of the month.

The weather is still to blame, said Greenworld Environmental CEO Chris Rose. Even though we've had a huge warm up outside and temperatures are finally above freezing, snow and ice are still layered within the massive leaf piles, Rose added.

The machines clog and take a day or so to fix if crews try to pick up frozen debris, he explained.

Meanwhile, some neighborhoods are dealing with leaf piles at least waist high.

"I just want them gone," said Neil Graber, who lives in Clay Township.

Large leaf piles at the end of his driveway that stretch the length of his property have been his reality for the last 5 months.

"[I] did what we were supposed to do, got the leaves out before the pickup date was supposed to be and the trucks never came," Graber said. "I ended up calling twice a week for a month straight and continually got the run around. They said, 'Oh we're in the area, in the area, in the area,' and I never saw the trucks."

Throughout the harsh winter, snow plows pushed those leaves back into his yard.

"I think they didn't have a plan. I think they kind of just rushed into it," he said of the county's new leaf pick up program.

"[It's] a complete mess," said Commissioner Andy Kostielney. "There's no other way to say that. It was the most unfortunate series of weather events that possibly could have happened."

Last year's new leaf pick up program started three weeks later than when the county picked up leaves several years ago. Also new last year - a burn ban. It's only legal to burn one week in the spring and one week in the fall, but the commissioners don't announce that date very far in advance.

"We don't want people burning right now because the leaves are wet and it's going to create a lot of smoke," Kostielney said Tuesday.

But some people are. St. Joseph County police responded to six burning complaints since March 28.

"I don't want to burn, but if that's the case I will," Graber said, adding he's trying to wait for pickup crews but said it's frustrating.

Meantime, the county is already trying to figure out how it can keep the same mess from happening again.

"We're looking at how they mobilize their crews and in what areas we focus on first," said County Engineer Jessica Clark. "Those discussions are ongoing and we'll definitely have a better plan in place."

A calendar on Greenworld's website details when past leaf pickups in the county have started - generally the third week in October. In 2013 it didn't begin until November 11 and, according to the website, crews only had 4 good work days that month and 2 in December. The rest were littered with inclement weather.

As the last of that snow and ice melts in the coming weeks, Rose said his plan is to resume pickup in Clay and Harris townships. Crews never made it to many of those neighborhoods for the first pickup pass last fall.

After that, the company will make a second pass throughout the entire county to pick up as much as it can.