Dumping junkers hits owners' wallets hard

City wrangling over ways to dispose of old automobiles

Posted: Tuesday, April 18, 2000

Juneau junk is expensive.

Residents whose cars have died must pay anywhere from $250 to $350 to get rid of them - which explains why so many decide it's not their problem and abandon their junkers on somebody else's property.

Part of the cost comes from disposing of oil, gas and other hazardous fluids. And in the case of the most recent cleanup, there's some dispute over who will pay.

At a recent Juneau Assembly meeting, member Tom Garrett directed the city manager to get rid of the junk cars that had been mushrooming out of Big Kmart's lot for several weeks - compliments of the city treasury. Until then, the responsibility for removing abandoned vehicles had been with the aggrieved property owner.

The gift was a one-time deal, said City Manager Dave Palmer. The bill for the pickup of some 29 cars on the lot is expected to be $8,000. That's if the price settled on with Kmart - which had already contracted with Glacier Muffler and Towing to have the cars removed before Garrett's edict - is the same that the city pays Glacier Muffler to handle junkers left on city property.

Part of the cost of eliminating a junker is the ticket of admission to Juneau's privately owned landfill - $150. The rest has to do with towing and environmental concerns.

The landfill stores the derelicts and eventually transfers them to a company that ships them out of the state, said Glen Thompson, district manager of Waste Management, the company that runs the landfill.

``The gas tank has to be drained and removed, the battery taken out, the fluids drained, and there can't be any garbage in the cars,'' Thompson said.

His landfill - which takes in 60 to 70 junkers per month - turned away the first few cars that showed up from the Kmart operation as unsuitable for the landfill, he said.

The city's blitz on the Kmart junkers didn't do the environment a lot of good. Oil, gasoline, transmission fluid, brake fluid, lube oil and coolant were dumped onto the parking lot pavement after a number of parties decided it was time to stand up and get things done.

Glacier Automotive owner Todd Richards said Kmart initiated getting those things done the night before the blitz by turning the cars over, punching holes in the relevant innards, and letting things leak all over the place.

``It was a mess,'' he said. ``But we took over after Glacier Muffler said they didn't want the hassle. They did about three cars and we did the rest, including a small trailer and a car that was cut in three pieces.''

Glacier Muffler is charging Kmart $260 per car removed, cleaned up and taken to the city dump, Richards said.

``We did start with the cleanup, but then we let the towing company handle it afterward,'' said Kmart District Manager T.G. Etgen.

``We want to be part of the Juneau community,'' he said, adding that Kmart had not received credit for taking the bull by the horns with respect to the junker action.

Etgen also pointed to his company's environmental effort in cleaning up after the fluid spills. Etgen is now talking with city officials to cover the cost of the spill cleanup.

The city, however, is committed to covering the costs of the removal operation, and not of cleaning up the lot, said Palmer.

At Monday night's assembly meeting, Palmer asked members to consider a request by Glacier Muffler that the city fund or acquire a car crusher, which would purportedly cut total costs by half.

The manager is preparing an ordinance for the assembly's consideration that would add a charge to Juneau homeowners' household hazardous waste fee. Revenues would go to pay for junker removal.

And costs are likely to go up.

Because of increasing costs connected to upgrading landfill facilities for handling potentially polluting materials, landfill admission fees will likely go up in the near future, Waste Management's Thompson said.

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