An unusually warm fall has some Oak Parkers scratching their heads over piles of leaves that still line the streets of their neighborhoods.
Many have been left wondering what to do with the rotting piles, weeks after they are usually scooped up by the village's public works department and its garbage hauler Waste Management.
The large maple tree in front of the home of Belinda Lutz-Hamel and her husband, William Hamel, in the 1000 block of South Scoville Avenue, dropped its leaves later this year than in the past.
Lutz-Hamel, who has lived in the home for the last 22 years, said the leaves usually fall just after Thanksgiving, but this year they stubbornly clung on.
She said in an interview in the first week of 2017, "I'm looking out the back window and seeing some trees that still haven't lost their leaves."
The couple dutifully raked the leaves out into the street to be picked up by garbage collectors in December, but the pile was covered by the first snow of the season and shoved back onto the parkway by snow plows, leaving a brown pile of icy muck.
Undaunted, Belinda and William again raked the leaves out onto the street, once the piles had thawed, but by then it was too late – leaf removal season had ended.
Lutz-Hamel said she's seen leftover piles in other parts of the village.
"I welcome you to drive around the village; the streets look unkempt," she said.
Predicting the perfect leaf removal schedule is as difficult as predicting the weather, according to Karen Rozmus, environmental services manager for the Oak Park Public Works Department.
Depending on weather and other factors, the leaf removal tonnage can vary by hundreds of tons, she said. In December 2006, for instance, Waste Management recorded removing 9.5 tons of leaves – a number that jumped to more than 440 tons in December the following year. In December 2016, 288.6 tons of leaves were picked up in the village.
Rozmus said 2016 was an anomaly for leaves dropping later than normal.
"I've never seen anything like it," she said. "It's just a weird weather year."
Rozmus noted that the eight-week leaf removal program costs the village roughly $240,000 to $250,000 a year. This year they extended the leaf removal program by one week through Dec. 9.
"In the past, we have been able to – for a week or so – send guys out in a truck to pick up piles that we legitimately missed," she said. "We don't think we missed anything [this year]; the trees and the leaves missed us."
Could global warming be the culprit? Perhaps, Rozmus says, but rainfall and other factors also play a role.
She said the overall amount of leaves picked up in Oak Park is actually down in the last few years because tree removal – primarily due to Dutch elm disease and the emerald ash borer.
No one likes to rake leaves into the street – especially twice. But that is the only solution, according to Rozmus.
She said postcards have been sent to residents in neighborhoods that still have piles of leaves lining the streets in front of their homes, instructing them to bag the leaves and call the public works department to have them picked up.
Only a few years ago, leftover leaves that weren't picked up by the village were the responsibility of the residents. That changed in 2013, Rozmus said.
"Up through 2012, if you missed the leaf [removal] season, it was, 'Too bad, see you in April,'" she said.
Beginning in 2013, the village began removing leaves that had been bagged and left under the village's winter organics collections program.
Residents are not required to put a sticker on the bags, and will not be charged for the pickup, but they must call the public works department and notify them that they have bagged the leaves and left them in the regular refuse collection area at their residence.
Rozmus emphasized that they must make that call to have the leaves removed. Collection of yard waste is every other Wednesday, she said.
Lutz-Hamel suggested taking money from the Park District of Oak Park and River Forest to complete the job, since the tree is in the public parkway.
"I don't have leaves on my schedule of things I want to do," she said. "I didn't plant the tree. It's the village's tree; it's not my tree. If I decided I don't want the tree, I can't just decide to chop it down."