MORTON — Changes in Morton's free self-service yard waste disposal program that went into effect last fall have nearly cleared up problems caused by the dumping of banned materials, according to the village's public works director.
"What was dropped off this spring and fall was the cleanest we've seen in a long time," said Craig Loudermilk. "We hope for 100 percent compliance, but we understand other materials can accidentally get mixed up with yard waste."
Village officials want the cleanliness to continue because they feel the 21-year-old yard waste program is a benefit for residents at a reasonable cost to the village.
"The program will go away with the stroke of a pen if people abuse it," Loudermilk said.
A new policing tool for the program was added recently when the Village Board passed an ordinance amendment that focuses specifically on illegal dumping at the disposal site.
In the past, Loudermilk said, other village ordinances were enforced when a violator was caught, sometimes by security cameras recording the violator's license plate number.
The new ordinance amendment bans yard waste dumping outside posted program hours and bans the dumping of anything other than yard waste all the time.
The fine for a violation ranges from $150 to $750. Prior violations add $50 for each succeeding violation.
Numerous changes to the yard waste program were made last fall after village officials became discouraged about the amount of banned materials left at the disposal site at Sewage Treatment Plant No. 2 at the corner of Broadway Road and South Fourth Avenue.
Village employees are now at the site during program hours, checking participants for proof of Morton residency and what's being brought to be unloaded, and answering questions.
The site is no longer open seven days a week because staffing is needed and yard waste can't be dropped off in paper recycling bags. Only yard waste can be left.
Leaves, grass clippings and tree branches no longer than 5 inches or more than 4 inches in diameter can be dumped. Railroad ties, roots from trees, bushes and shrubbery, pet waste, household garbage and plant containers are among forbidden items.
"We've gotten lumber, a concrete bird bath, a coffee can filled with nuts and bolts and Christmas lights dropped off through the years," Loudermilk said.
Yard waste left at the disposal site goes through a grinder and is turned into mulch. Nuts, bolts and lumber aren't made for that process and they can fly out of the grinder.
There now is a larger fenced-in area to leave yard waste, and a new traffic pattern has lessened backups on South Fourth during busy program times, especially weekends.
The village has paid $40,157 annually to Argenta-based R&R Services since 2014 to grind and haul away dumped yard waste from the disposal site. The most recent contract expired with the fall pick-up.
An annual recycling grant from Tazewell County to the village has helped defray disposal expenses. The grant for the 2016-2017 fiscal year was $23,175.
Steve Stein can be reached at 686-3114 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.