A pending enforcement action against a Small Tracts Road property owner has cast a spotlight on the perennial issue of junked cars in the valley. The Haines Borough is now investigating ways to make disposal of wrecks more economical.
The borough in April told landowner Lucy Harrell she had to clean up a former tire shop property on Small Tracts it says contains 18 vehicles, a boat, five decrepit motorcycles, 300 tires and a few engine blocks.
Harrell said she told Mayor Jan Hill and manager Mark Earnest she wouldn’t pay an estimated $800 per vehicle to take them to a local, authorized junkyard. "I told them, ‘You deal with it. I’m not going to clean up the borough again. I did that once and once was enough.’"
Harrell said she spent more than $12,000 a few years back to ship out cars that accumulated at a lot of hers at the site of the Haines Friends of Recycling shop. Cars there, and at the tire shop site more recently, were dumped without her permission, she said.
"The property grew cars every night or whenever it was convenient. People saw them there and put more there," she said.
Under borough code, more than two unregistered vehicles on a lot constitute a junkyard, requiring a conditional use permit. Tire shop neighbor Fred Einspruch has said he’ll take legal action if the borough doesn’t enforce its code.
Einspruch calls the lot a "disaster" that violates at least three sections of borough code regulating junkyards, nuisances and emissions of noxious fumes. "The Haines Borough is derelict in its duties and responsibilities in enforcing borough code and … I intend to take all reasonable and legal remedies available to me to resolve this situation," he wrote to Earnest Sept. 14.
Resident Darsie Culbeck recently worked for the borough as a consultant on the Harrell issue as well as the larger question of junk car disposal. The borough has developed an estimate on the cost of cleaning the tire shop site, he said.
"We’re waiting for information on how (Harrell) wants to work it out. If she can write a check (for cleanup), that’s great. If not, we’ll try to work something out," he said. "Our intent is to work with Lucy on cleaning the property up."
Strict enforcement of borough law regarding junked vehicles probably would cost the borough more in time and legal fees than working with landowners, he said.
Landowner Harrell said taking a hard line on the issue also doesn’t address the illegal dumping of old cars on other people’s properties and the environmental threat posed by toxins in batteries and car fluids.
Culbeck said the borough will try to get a count on numbers of derelict vehicles, possibly toward bringing a scrap metal barge to town. Options include pooling resources with Skagway, having the borough help residents remove toxins from cars, or charging residents a per-vehicle fee to help cover the cost of cleanup.
"Everything is on the table at this point. We’re trying to find the least costly way of ridding the valley of junk cars now and in the future… (But) this is going to cost the borough, no matter what, and it will cost the people who own the cars. We’re trying to make it as inexpensive as possible," Culbeck said.
Harrell said if she’s forced to pay the full costs of clearing the lot, she’ll dump the cars on someone else’s property, perhaps the borough’s. "If that’s the only way I can deal with it, that’s the way I’ll deal with it."
"It’s the duty of government to deal with this problem because no individual can," Harrell said. Meanwhile, state trooper Josh Bentz said derelict cars continue to appear in roadsides in the upper valley. He said he has spotted three or four – including two inside the eagle preserve – since a Juneau tow truck driver removed ones from the preserve two years ago.
Bentz said he could fine owners up to $1,000 for dumping cars, if he could identify their owners.