State eyes junk vehicles
MONTPELIER -- The state is cracking down on unregulated junkyards but has a lot of work to do, with environmentaladvocatessaying Tuesday that up to three-quarters of the salvage operations are doing business without the required licenses or effective regulation.
It’s a worry because some junkyards allow toxic materials from cars -- including tires, motor oil, gasoline and brake and transmission fluids -- to get into the environment and often into nearby streams, said Jessica Edgerly, state director with the environmental group Toxics Action Center.
Edgerly was joined by two legal junkyard operators and the state commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, Justin Johnson, at a news conference Tuesday to describe the problem and steps being taken to address it.
Hundreds in state
An initial state review after a law regulating junkyards was passed last year showed there were 76 salvage yards operating with the proper state licenses and local permits. The state estimated 140 were operating without licenses.
Further study by Edgerly’s group put the number operating illegally at about 215, she said.
Edgerly agreed with Armand Rathe and Jamie Bolduc, who run legal salvage yards in Colchester and Middlesex, respectively, that unlicensed and unregulated junkyards are creating unfair competition in their industry.
"It is unfair that 76 legal yards that have made the effort to follow the law and protect the environment are competing with so many illegal operations," Edgerly said.
Johnson said the competitive issue is an important one. He called salvage yards, which dismantle old cars and sell parts and scrap metal, "a pretty cutthroat industry."
Johnson said his agency has been working to draft rules to enforce the new junkyard law. Among them: Junk vehicles must be crushed on an impervious surface to prevent leaking of liquids into the ground, and liquid wastes must be properly stored and managed.
Edgerly and Johnson urged passage of legislation calling for the regulation of salvage yards and fees to be imposed on violators.
A bill on the subject has passed the Vermont Senate and is awaiting action in the House.
Complaints about junkyards appear to have been rising recently as operations established decades ago along rural roads come to find themselves surrounded by newer neighborhoods.
In Milton, complaints by neighbors about ABC Metals and Recycling have led to two court actions: Owner Gil Rhoades is appealing to the state Supreme Court a Superior Court decision upholding the town’s denial of a renewed permit for his operation. Meanwhile, the state is suing the company, Rhoades and his wife over allegations of environmental violations.
Rhoades’ lawyer, Thomas G. Walsh, of Burlington, said Rhoades believes he has been singled out and treated unfairly by the state after a campaign by his neighbors to shut him down.
Another business labeled an illegal salvage yard by the state sits just about a mile from the Statehouse in Montpelier.
Dozens of cars sit in rows surrounded by weeds at I B’s Auto Repair, easily exceeding what John Brabant, director of the state’s salvage yard program, said is a threshold of four abandoned vehicles on a property that defines it as a junkyard.
Owner Paul Ibey leases the land where he operates from the state, which has terminated his lease as part of an effort to upgrade a railroad track behind his shop.
"I don’t consider myself a junkyard," Ibey said in an interview, contending he uses the abandoned cars as sources of parts for still-running cars he’s repairing. "I take two or three and make ‘em one."
Since the Agency of Transportation is shutting him down for the railroad project, the environmental agency shouldn’t have to worry about him, Ibey said.
"They can call themselves," he said. "They can get on a computer and talk to each other."
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