SHAFTSBURY -- A long-standing automotive salvage yard in Shaftsbury will need to secure local approval to continue operating under new state statute.
Environmental permitting of salvage yards (formerly "junkyards") in Vermont changed in 2009, with state law transferring permitting authority from the Agency of Transportation to the Agency of Natural Resources.
New location standards and rules regulating salvage yards were also adopted at that time, and new authority was given to local municipalities in the form of a "Certificate of Approved Location," granted by the local municipality after at least one required public hearing. Without receiving approval from their respective local municipalities, existing salvage yards across the state risk losing certification.
Brownell's Wrecking Service
Previously, local municipalities had no authority over salvage yard certification. The law governs any facility that keeps junk/scrap metal outside or four or more "junk vehicles" for more than 90 days.
Operating on a five-year certification cycle, Brownell's Auto Wrecking Service at 822 White Creek Road was last re-certified in 2007 under old statute. The decades-old business, operated by father and son Bill and William Brownell Jr., applied to the Shaftsbury Select Board for a certificate of location before their previous certification's expiration June 30, prompting board members to set a date for a site visit and public hearing later this month.
"The discretion appears to be pretty broad," said board Chairman Lon McClintock, speaking to the board during their regular meeting July 2. From discussions with town Attorney Rob Woolmington and John Brabant, an ANR environmental analyst and the sole state inspector for salvage yard compliance, McClintock said the statute requires every salvage yard -- new and pre-existing -- to get location approval initially.
"The first step in this whole recertification process is for the town to take some action," said McClintock, who said the town was not obligated to grant approval. Pre-existing businesses can not be denied based on nonconformity with new setback requirements, but towns can order new conditions or performance standards, like screening from view from public roads.
If a majority of the Select Board can't agree on mitigating performance standards, "then the certification process would come to an end for lack of location approval, and, under the current statute, Brownell's would be required to immediately cease operations," McClintock told board members.
A public hearing was scheduled for Monday, July 23, beginning at 6 p.m. A site visit will take place beforehand, starting at 4:45 p.m.
Board member William Obenauer expressed his concern with the Select Board evaluating the site without clear guidelines. McClintock said the statute appeared "broadly worded" with the idea that towns "should be able to deal with each situation based on its merits."
McClintock said principals like "grandfather clauses" had allowed salvage yards to exist in areas that developed into residential neighborhoods, "and the state, or the municipalities, did not have an effective way to regulate these pre-existing businesses. So the Legislature said, ‘OK, we're going to create a law that basically authorizes the people most impacted -- that is the town -- to determine whether they're going to allow this salvage yard to exist or not.'"
"So the law is trying to draw a bright line between the old days when salvage yards were not regulated, to the present day when there is a set of regulations to regulate and monitor salvage yards," he said.
Phone calls to Brownell's were not returned by press time Sunday.
A November 2009 code inspection at the salvage yard found 27 violations, including an insufficient screening fence and evidence of hazardous materials leaked onto the ground and into nearby streams. In 2010 the Vermont Superior Court levied a penalty and ordered corrective action. An Assurance of Discontinuance was filed in November 2011, closing the court case.
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