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Wednesday, June 20, 2007 11:54 pm

Still talking trash

City Council looks for ways to fix broken waste-hauling system

Fly dumping has been a problem in Springfield for years. Back in early 2004, property owner Roy Rhodes showed Illinois Times a heap of garbage someone illegally piled on his southeast Springfield property.
Untitled Document Ward 2 Ald. Gail Simpson is tired of dealing with garbage. Her east-side ward experiences some of the city’s biggest problems with fly dumping and abandoned trash piles, so the issue became a top priority during her campaign for City Council. Although Simpson and other members of the council haven’t found answers to the area’s garbage problem, the gears are again in motion after this week’s first of two waste-subcommittee hearings. The new panel, chaired by Ward 6 Ald. Mark Mahoney, continues a public discussion that Mayor Tim Davlin joined nearly four years ago. Shortly after he was elected in 2003, the mayor met with key players, including representatives of the city’s four major waste haulers, and even hired an environmental consultant at a cost of $75 per hour for assistance.
Now, new aldermen appear to be starting over. “It’s going to take gathering information and learning what other cities do that are comparable to our size,” Simpson says, “and the City Council and subcommittee need to be willing to make recommendations and come up with ordinances.”
Several Springfield officials attended Monday’s initial round of discussion. Public-works director Mike Norris informed the panel that it can take anywhere from seven days to three weeks for an offender to be prosecuted for not using a trash service, and even then the individual may escape unscathed with a temporary slip of subscription. Wynne Coplea, manager of the city’s Division of Waste and Recycling, provided the panel with a synopsis of garbage-service details from eight nearby cities. Only two of the eight — Champaign and Urbana — offer a similar system of open subscription, but Coplea says that costs are comparable across the board. “We are by no means exorbitant,” says Coplea. “We’re right in line with the other cities. We’re cheaper. We’re doing better.”
The need for competition was a recurring subject at the meeting. Don Crenshaw, president of Lake Area Disposal Services, said that although his 75-year old company captured a profit when the city was split into zones, he would not favor a return to the old system. “You would lose your competition if you zone it,” Crenshaw says. “Competition is what private business is all about.”
While the council hesitates over creating zones and implementing contracts, Simpson stands on the side of those who feel that loss of competition should not be a future issue. “Overall, resistance to change will be one of the biggest factors that slow this process,” Simpson says, “and people not understanding that there can still be competition.”
A secondary issue dividing those involved is a lack of accurate facts and figures.  “There was a discrepancy in the number of households that do not have pickup,” Mahoney says. “We need to find out exactly what we’re looking at and kind of work through that process.”
At its next meeting, on July 16, the waste subcommittee will hear comments from neighborhood associations, landlord associations, and the general public, as well as from the county health department, on waste-collection licensing.
Mahoney says that the biggest obstacle in this entire process will be persuading residents to change. “The way we approach waste now, there is a choice, and there will be a desire to keep that choice,” he says, “but we need to make sure the city is clean and livable. We have to deal with these problems.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.
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