The orange, yellow and red glow of turning leaves signals the arrival of fall... and the arrival of Hillsboro Public Works leaf vacuums, the unmistakable hulking machines that travel the city sucking piles of leaves from the streets.

Leaves change from beautiful fall foliage to storm drain-clogging nuisances in a matter of weeks.

No worries, though. Curbside leaf pick-up season is just around the corner, with city crews beginning pick-up curbside on Nov. 26. The program runs through Jan. 29.

The city is doing things a little differently this year to help improve efficiency, with just one pick-up per neighborhood area, said city spokeswoman Barbara Simon.

There are a few things to know about city leaf pick-up to ensure your leaves get picked up from the street.

City crews will pick up only leaves — no sticks, grass clippings, branches or garbage.

To promote proper rainwater drainage, the city asks that you pile your leaves in a windrow at least 18 inches away from the curb and keep the pile smaller than three feet high. Don’t block mailboxes, garbage bins or cul-de-sacs.

Don’t bag the leaves. Leave them loose.

Have your leaves out a week before the scheduled pick-up week.

In addition, there are four leaf drop-off days scheduled at the Fairground Sports Complex (just south of Cornell Road, at Northeast 28th Avenue and Grant Street): Nov. 17, Dec. 1, Dec. 15 and Jan. 12, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day.

If you plan to drop off leaves at the city’s collections site, bring them loose. If you prefer to bag them, place them in biodegradable paper sacks, not plastic bags.

Drop-off is free, but the city asks you to consider bringing a donation of canned food for the Oregon Food Bank.

Lots of leaves

Cities all around Washington County run some form of leaf collection programs, said Mark Jockers, spokesperson for Clean Water Services. The programs are important, he said, “primarily to prevent localized flooding.”

When leaves block stormwater catch basins, streets and intersections can flood, creating dangerous situations for drivers, Jockers said.

Just how many leaves do Hillsboro’s trees produce? It’s hard to say for sure, Simon said. The leaf pick-up program is supplemental to yard debris recycling. But last year, city crews picked up 2,300 cubic yards of leaves and collected another 300 cubic yards during three drop-off days. That would fill almost two dozen 40-foot semi-truck trailers (enough so that if you parked them end to end on a football field, you’d have nearly three full rows.)

Leaves go to West Union Gardens, a small farm north of the city on Cornelius Pass Road, for use as mulch and soil amendment.

Program has grown

Hillsboro has had a leaf pick-up program for about 20 years, Simon said. It started out with crews collecting plastic bags of leaves that residents left out. As Hillsboro and its trees have grown, the city added machines to do the heavy lifting.

The city owns two leaf pick-up machines, Simon said. One machine with a giant black hose attaches to a dump truck. The hose sucks up leaves, crunches them and blows them into the truck.

The other machine runs along the curb vacuuming leaves and collecting them in a dump truck.

Two city crews — six workers — will spend nine weeks collecting leaf debris.

In 2011, the leaf pick-up program used 2,300 man hours, Simon said. Cost of the program was about $200,000 in 2011 and is paid for by city residents through the storm water management fee that shows up on the water and sewer utility bill.

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