Since 2006, the City of Rock Island has offered its residents a free Saturday drop-off for yard waste and refuse.

The service has been wildly popular, with 40-50 cars lined up for hours on a typical Saturday, waiting to unload at the site by the city's public works facility, 1309 Mill St.

Now that's about to end.

Rock Island Public Works Director Bob Hawes said Wednesday that an inspector with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, paid a surprise visit to the drop-off site earlier this summer and "determined that what we are doing is defined as operating a transfer station." As such, it needs a permit and to follow EPA rules and specifications for how the material is handled.

To meet permit requirements and avoid fines for noncompliance, for example, the city would have to build a structure estimated to cost $500,000 and purchase additional land because "it would require more space than we have," he added.

Instead, the city has decided to close the drop-off - the last date is tentatively set for Aug. 29 - and refer residents to Quad-Cities Landfill Millennium Waste Inc. on Knoxville Road in Milan, Ill., where they will be charged $10 per pickup load.

Residents also will be limited to one pickup load at a time; no more dump trucks. And hours will be limited to the morning - 7 a.m. to noon.

The landfill is about 10 miles from the center of Rock Island while the Mill Street site is about two miles, Hawes said.

Although the change will be more costly for individual residents, it will help the city's budget, which anticipated a $130,000 overrun this year for operating the drop-off, he said.

That's because once yard waste and refuse is dropped off, the city has to pick it up and haul it to a landfill, which costs money in hauling and tipping fees. And because the program has been so popular, the city has had to hire independent contractors to keep up with the hauling, Hawes said.

Under the new arrangement, the city will have no hauling expense for refuse, and tipping fees for refuse will be offset by the $10 per load paid by residents, an amount that might just about cover the city's expense, he said.

Employees will still have to haul the yard waste and pay its tipping fee; under the new arrangement, yard waste dropped off at Millennium will be transported to the Upper Rock Island County Landfill in East Moline because Millennium does not have a compost permit, he explained.

Two city employees will monitor the Millennium site on Saturday mornings to help facilitate the drop-off. But neither the monitoring nor the yard waste hauling/tipping is an extra burden because the city is doing those jobs anyway, Hawes said.

There is some good news for residents, he pointed out. The $10 charge is $40 less than Millennium typically charges for drop-off; the landfill was willing to reduce the cost because the city is providing staff, roll-off containers and signs to direct people.

The drive to Millennium - though longer than to Mill Street - is paved all the way, and waits should be much reduced because of the pickup truck limit.

Hawes also is hoping the city will be allowed to offer free leaf drop-off for eight weeks in the fall, but no one has heard yet from the Illinois EPA.

And the city will continue to offer annually one special bulky waste pickup for free.

Maggie Carson, a spokeswoman with the Illinois EPA, confirmed the department's inspection and finding that the drop-off site is being managed as a transfer station without a permit.

She says the EPA has an interest in how such sites are managed because "we don't want to go back to the days when there was an illegal dump in every town that drew rats and insects … and became a public health nuisance."