The double whammy of snow and ice during early December's two storms set leaf-pickup operations back several weeks, particularly in Northwest Washington and Montgomery County, and some residents have been less than understanding.
"We're playing catch-up," Mary Myers, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works, said yesterday.
"We're getting a fair amount of complaints," county engineer Lew Cutsail acknowledged yesterday.
The District was ready for the annual project of removing leaves from residents' properties this fall, promptly sending its trucks out in early November for the first sweep. Only one problem: Few leaves had fallen then.
By the time the second run was gearing up, an early December snow had diverted roughly 30 trucks and many crew members from leaf pickup to snow removal. Now, the department is scrambling to remove large piles of leaves that have angered residents, blocked drains and curbside parking and created neighborhood eyesores.
Ashby Beal is one of many Northwest Washington residents who are frustrated by the delays.
"Within five blocks of [the] 3300 block of Stephenson Place, there haven't been any leaves picked up," Beal said of his street. "The leaves were raked into the tree box [between the street and sidewalk] a month ago. They're just sitting there. The wind blows them around. Rain or snow comes along, and they just create a mess on the street."
Myers said crews are "working extended hours. We have 200 people dedicated to leaves daily except Sunday."
The city's Department of Public Works had expected to have a smoother leaf-removal operation this year than in previous years when the pickups were spotty and unreliable. Officials mailed schedules to residents throughout the city, noting specific days when the leaf trucks would sweep through their neighborhoods.
Some neighborhoods in Wards 3 and 4, which produce about 75 percent of the city's leaves, were scheduled for three pickups during the fall and winter. Unfortunately nature doesn't always abide by the public works timetable.
When the first trucks hit the streets in early November, officials said, barely any leaves had fallen.
"The first two weeks were very light," Myers said. "You couldn't tell we'd picked up anything. There was not much on the ground."
To some city officials, the department's highly regimented schedule made no sense.
"I'm no leaf expert, but you have to do the schedule to make sure you do not do the pickup before there are leaves on the ground," said D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who has received several e-mails from angry constituents about the leaves. "It's not just a cause of frustration, but beyond that it's a waste of money. How much manpower is wasted driving around with no leaves on the ground?"
Willis Martin III wants to know the same thing. His parents and sister live in Ward 4, and their neighborhoods have not had leaves removed.
"The services do not seem to me to be much better than when [Marion] Barry was mayor," Martin said. "They're very good at PR, but actually doing the job leaves a lot to be desired."
Martin said he is worried that "those leaves have been compacted. They've been driven over and covered with ice and snow. It's probably almost impossible for the leaf-sucking devices to get them up."
Myers said that residents who are tired of waiting for the leaf-removal trucks can also bag the leaves and put them out with their trash.
"Be patient," she said. "We will get all of them."
Montgomery County officials are also scrambling to get their leaf collection back on schedule.
Under normal weather circumstances, the massive operation -- which involves 300 to 350 people a day and more than 100 specially equipped trucks -- finishes its first pickup by Thanksgiving. This year, the final neighborhoods in the "leaf vacuuming district" of the county's lower third didn't see crews until last week.
By then, leaves had deteriorated so badly that workers simply loaded and hauled them away.
And yesterday, the county's second pickup began. The only promise? To conclude "in the near future," Cutsail said.
In an average year, he said, Montgomery collects slightly more than 15,000 tons of leaves -- "enough to fill a football stadium several times."