hazardous-waste collection event

Cars fill the drop-off lines during a rainy mid-afternoon Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, at a hazardous-waste disposal event in a parking lot outside Market Place Mall in Champaign.

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CHAMPAIGN — A hazardous-waste collection event Saturday in north Champaign was an apparent victim of its own success.

Despite a smooth start in the morning, some of the people who had made appointments to drop off items later in the day were in line as long as three hours.

Fred Stavins, the Champaign city attorney, said he not only listened to the whole Illinois football victory over Purdue on the radio but also had time to call the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and lodge a complaint while waiting.

“I’ve been in line three hours. I started at 11:30. That’s when my ticket said to show up,” Stavins said at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. “I regret being in line. After an hour, I should have gotten out of here.”

He was on Market Street for two hours inching toward the parking lot, which had lines that snaked up to a drop-off tent. He spent another hour in the parking lot before a worker took his items from him.

In contrast, Savoy resident Sally Shores said her 8:30 a.m. appointment was “very good.”

“There was quite a line already (when she arrived at 8:25 a.m.) but it just moved beautifully,” Shores said.

“Everyone was coming in off Market Street ... following directions and it just went smoothly and the employees were so helpful. I think time just caught up with them.”

'Little miscommunication'

“Miscommunication” between the IEPA and the contractor the agency hired to staff the event may have been responsible, according to Nichole Millage, environmental sustainability specialist for the city of Champaign.

“I think there was a little miscommunication between the IEPA and the contractor on exactly how many people were going to be there,” she said.

The long-planned event — it’s been seven years since the last one — had been heavily publicized and organized — or so planners thought.

The event was scheduled between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Planners allowed for 1,400 registrants. Each was to sign up for a time slot that was a 15-minute window and were sent a postcard that they were to show once at the site.

Shores said she showed hers at 8:30. Stavins said that by the time he got to the drop-off point, no one asked for his.

Participants were warned not to show up early to the site, which was behind (east of) Dick’s Sporting Goods at Market Place Mall.

Stavins said he approached the event from the south and found traffic backed up on Market Street all the way from the collection site south to Bradley Avenue, roughly 1.2 miles.

'Not going great'

Champaign Public Works spokesman Kris Koester, contacted in sunny Florida, was aware of the backup.

“It’s not going great. The weather is not cooperating and there are issues with the contractor, who was not prepared to accept as many as we registered,” Koester said. “They don’t have as many lines for the cars to get through.”

The backup was in stark contrast to the success that previous electronics recycling events have enjoyed, using the same basic registration system and drop-off scheme.

At the electronics events, many of the helpers were people completing public-service sentences handed out by Champaign County judges. With Saturday’s event, only appropriately suited employees of the contractor, Heritage Environmental, could accept the items.

Millage said she felt there were plenty of employees but thought registrants may have had more product than anticipated, and some wanted their containers back.

“That kind of slows things down. Then, the contractor doesn’t have as many lines open as we anticipated, so that doesn’t help,” said Millage, adding that most people were “kind and understanding.”

However, she said she understood the frustration of those forced to wait, or who chose to wait.

Stavins said he inquired of a worker accepting his light bulbs, batteries and used motor oil what caused the three-hour delay.

The thoughtful response: “There’s a lot of people.”

News-Gazette

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Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).