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CHARLESTON -- Coles County officials say they don't see a return to a rural trash drop off program that ended last year, despite some recent inquiries about reinstating it.

One county resident doesn't think there's a concerted enough effort to revive the program, at least in a different form.

Inquiries to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency led to the indication that what was commonly known as the trash "roll off" program was operating illegally, said Kelly Lockhart, executive director of the county Regional Planning and Development Commission.

Lockhart said the commission, which handles solid waste issues for the county, is exploring alternatives. One of those would be to include rural county residents in the "cleanup" days the cities of Charleston and Mattoon have each year, he said.

Hutton Township resident Les Combs spoke to the Coles County Board about the the program, both after it ended in June and again in January.

"You took it away with nothing to fill in," Combs said during last month's board meeting.

With the roll off program, trash bins were placed in various rural parts of the county on certain Fridays of each month, available for use for county residents. The county and participating townships shared in the cost.

The program dated to the mid-1970s when not all rural residents in the county could get trash hauling service at their homes, which Lockhart said isn't the case now.

He said it apparently began as an effort to limit open dumping. It was for disposal of larger items, such as furniture, and household trash wasn't allowed, though that might have been different at first, Lockhart said.

Lockhart said Sarah Mummel, the planning commission's solid waste coordinator, reviewed the program last year and thought it might actually need a permit, which the IEPA confirmed.

The county board's Health and Safety Committee voted to suspend the program. A legal opinion from the county State's Attorney's Office also concluded that a state permit would be needed for what could be considered waste disposal sites.

IEPA regulations indicate that clean up programs that operate as the roll off program did can take place in the same location no more than three times a year. The roll off program had bins in each of its locations once a month.

State Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) contacted the IEPA about the issue at Combs' request. Righter said the agency was "definite" in its indication that the roll off program would need a permit.

Also, the IEPA said a different program, less frequent and with certain monitoring, would be allowed, according to an email from the agency that Righter provided.

Combs said he recently contacted the IEPA and was told the roll off program was allowed if the bins weren't place in the same locations as frequently as before. IEPA officials wouldn't confirm that, however.

Todd Rettig, chief of the IEPA land bureau, said the program as Righter described it was technically a waste transfer station, which needs a state permit.

It met that definition because it consolidated waste from multiple locations to a single one for transport for disposal, he said.

Combs said he spoke with Tom Hubbard, a manager in the IEPA's permit section.

In a response to a request to speak with Hubbard, agency spokeswoman Kim Biggs said Rettig spoke with him. She said Rettig indicated that Hubbard said nothing that differed from the position that the roll off program needed a permit.

In response to an inquiry from the county planning commission, Hubbard did say a county-funded program to address open dumping would be allowed if the waste went directly to a disposal facility after bins were filled.

Rettig said the state agency's position is that open dumping would apply more to "when you drive down the road and see trash thrown in a ditch," not to how the roll off program operated.

During the January county board meeting, Chairman Mike ZuHone said the IEPA indicated there would be "no recourse" against the county if officials weren't aware of the illegality.

However, the agency also said continuing the program as it was could result in "multi-million dollar fines" and the county had "no other reason" for ending it, ZuHone said.

Lockhart said the state agency has already approved a request to include county residents in the Charleston's and Mattoon's cleanup days and it's now up to the cities to agree.

There are also two electronics recycling events scheduled, one in April and one in October, and there's also a pending application with the IEPA for a hazardous waste collection, he said.

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Contact Dave Fopay at (217) 238-6858. Follow him on Twitter: @FopayDave

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Dave Fopay is a reporter for the JG-TC who covers Coles County, the local court system, Charleston schools and more.

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