COVID-19 is making changes in bulk leaf collection for Concord

  • A General Services crew picks up leaves on the side of the road along Broadway in Concord on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • A pile of leaves on the sidewalk spills onto Concord Street in Concord on Wednesday, December 12, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 9/30/2020 5:26:35 PM

Add this to the list of things that COVID-19 has sidelined: Concord’s unique foliage vacuums.

This year the citywide curbside leaf pickup system, which starts Nov. 2, will use a variant of a snowblower to collect leaves that are raked onto the street because it minimizes the time that teams to work in close contact.

“It’s impractical to expect a crew of six people to perform physical labor of that nature for seven hours a day, five days a week, having to wearing a face mask or anything that would impede their ability to breath,” said Chip Chesley, director of General Services for the city.

The city’s change in technology will also require a change by property owners. The new system can only gather leaves which have fallen over the curb onto the roadway, which means people must be careful to make sure their piles haven’t fallen back over the curb onto the grass or sidewalk because they won’t get collected.

In previous years, the flexible vacuum hose operated by the General Services crew could suck up errant leaves, grass clippings and pine needles that hadn’t made it down to the road – but no longer.

“The most important thing for residents is to actually get their leaves out onto the pavement – push them out onto the pavement, don’t leave them,” said Chesley. “We need to pay particular attention to getting the leaves over the curb.”

For many years Concord has used an enormous vacuum pulled behind dump trucks to collect leaves at curbside on a schedule throughout much of the city covering several weeks.

This system is commoner down south but unique in New Hampshire, mostly due to concern that early  winter can interfere with it. That is exactly what has happened in some recent years, when early snow has frozen piles of leaves before the teams can get to them, snarling schedules.

Early snow could hamper the new technology, too, because the tractors that carry the leaf collection units are also used to operate snowblowers that clear sidewalks and other areas.

“If there’s early snowfall we’ll have to move those assets into snow collection,” said Chesley of the tractors.

About 8,500 properties in the city are eligible for leaf pickup although some bag their leaves and leave them to picked up by the city’s recycling vendor. This is the third year that the city has offered bagged pickup, which will start Nov. 23. 

City residents can also take their leaves to Gelinas Excavation & Earth Recycling Center, 10 Intervale Road, behind the Capital Area Veterinary Emergency center.

In general, Chesley said, COVID-19 hasn’t had a huge effect on city maintenance services and roadwork.

“The schedule hasn’t changed but how we do it is significantly different. We have split our crews, some reporting early, some reporting late – changed how we manage our labor, break up people into smaller units,” he said.

One drawback: “People miss that collegial atmosphere that we enjoy when coming to work, we’re all more isolated.”

For details about leaf collection, see the city website:

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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