MONTPELIER, Vt. — The Agency of Natural Resources has fined two salvage companies in the past two months for failing to keep up with state permitting and environmental regulations. Fines on the small local businesses total just shy of $35,000 in combined penalties.
On June 7, ANR announced a $25,000 fine against Blakeman’s Towing and Recovery in Tunbridge for operating a salvage yard without complying fully with Vermont’s land use laws and hazardous waste regulations.
The penalty was imposed after the agency sent inspectors to the company’s two salvage yards in 2013 and spotted dozens of car batteries and used automotive oil on bare ground — typical salvage yard occurrences that run afoul of Vermont’s strict environmental laws.
In addition, regulators discovered that Blakeman’s didn’t have all necessary permits required by the Agency of Natural Resources and the local town. The Natural Resources Board also found that the company’s Act 250 land use permit from 2003 required written approval from the District 3 Environmental Commission before any design changes or new activity could be implemented by the business — another hurdle that snared the company and increased fines.
ANR filed an Administrative Order against the business with the Environmental Court in 2016. Faced with numerous regulatory challenges, the company agreed earlier this year to halt salvage yard operations until it can come into compliance with permitting and hazardous waste management requirements.
Blakeman’s isn’t the only salvage company that has been receiving visits from zealous environmental inspectors.
On July 10, ANR fined Andrew Mitchell $9,937 for operating his West Burke and Lyndonville salvage yards without the required state and local permits. Requirements include a municipal Certificate of Approved Location (COAL) permit and an annual state-level Department of Environmental Conservation Salvage Yard Program permit.
“In the summer of 2015, Agency personnel inspected Mr. Mitchell’s West Burke property and found an active salvage yard with a car-crushing unit in operation. Mr. Mitchell had not secured a COAL (Certificate of Approved Location) from the municipality to operate a salvage yard at this property and had not obtained a permit with DEC’s Salvage Yard Program,” states an ANR news release.
The agency issued a Notice of Alleged Violation ordering Mitchell to get his salvage property in compliance. In fall 2015, agency inspectors confirmed the West Burke property was clean and was no longer operating as a salvage yard. Inspectors then turned their attention to Mitchell’s other property.
“Upon inspection of the Lyndonville property, which Mr. Mitchell had proposed to be a new salvage yard, Agency staff found a second unpermitted salvage yard already in operation,” the news release stated.
Mitchell has since submitted applications for a COAL permit from the municipality; he received his DEC’s Salvage Yard Program permit in early 2016.
John Zaikowski, an attorney with the Department of Environmental Conservation, spoke with True North and denied that the fines amount to big government cracking down on defenseless small business. He said the penalties, while substantial, are applied after careful consideration.
“When the agency initiates an administrative enforcement action, if we pursue penalties as part of the case, we’re required by state law and administrative penalty rule to look at a number of different factors when we assess the penalty,” Zaikowski said.
Some of those factors include the impact of the violation on public safety, the impact on the environment, the violator’s awareness of the offense and the duration of the violation.
Zaikowski said regulators try to reach out to the salvage yard operators throughout the process.
“Typically, we will respond to sites for either a complaint that we’ve received or through an inspection that we conduct, and in either of those circumstances there is usually an interaction with the regulated entity to advise them that what they are doing requires a permit from us and you need to get one,” he said.
Zaikowski said violations they typically look for include soil contamination, ground water contamination, mishandling of batteries and mishandling of decaying vehicles.
“We’re always concerned about vehicles that can leak fluid from them, which are hazardous materials that can get into soil and ground water or into surface waters,” he said. “Those are typically the big ones.”
Helen Gates, co-manager of Gates Salvage in Hardwick, has not been fined by ANR. But she was able to offer some perspective on what it’s like to function under ANR’s watch. Gates says while state regulations are becoming burdensome, the standards are important for protecting the environment.
“I do feel that if you are doing the proper procedures to follow the rules of a junkyard, you shouldn’t have to worry about fines,” she told True North.
“(Batteries) have to be on an impervious surface,” she said. “They got to be out of the elements.”
She said one of the tasks that is particularly taxing, however, is to strip down cars of things like batteries and oils before crushing.
“It slows the process down. We used to be able to crush four loads a day and now we can only do one,” she said.
Gates said she and her son attended a conference with Vermont and New Hampshire salvage yard operators to learn about becoming a “green yard.”
“It’s what they want everybody to do, and we tried to bring back a lot of the things that they were doing and start doing them as a green yard,” she said. “It just means that you are environmentally sound.”
While Gates said she has been able to incrementally update her operation to abide by all the new regulations, she added that it’s getting more difficult for newcomers.
“I think it’s harder and harder each year,” she said.
The owner of Blakeman’s Towing and Recovery declined to be interviewed for this story.