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By Dan Rudy 

City focusing on removing junk vehicles

 

Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

A disused van sits in the parking lot of Shoemaker Bay Harbor. The city is currently taking steps toward identifying and arranging for the disposal of derelict craft and vehicles around the island.

The city is currently working on ways to reduce the number of autos, boats and other items abandoned or else improperly stored around the island.

Chief Doug McCloskey with the Wrangell Police Department explained there currently are many derelict vehicles on the city's radar, about a dozen in all. In municipal code, junk vehicles by definition are those which are stripped, wrecked or otherwise inoperable due to mechanical failure.

Currently it is against the law for a junk vehicle to remain in public view on any property, public or private, within the borough for more than 10 days. The fine schedule puts a $50 fine on each offense, with every 10 days that passes considered a separate violation.

The problem is at once aesthetic and a matter of land usage, while also tying into a broader issue Wrangell has been having with a surplus of scrap metals and white goods. Public Works director Amber Al-Haddad explained the prices of scrap iron and other commodities have dropped over the past five years, making such items an expensive prospect to transport for salvage, including old vehicles.

When prices were high, the city had taken advantage of its ability to move unwanted items by lowering the rate for disposal at the junkyard, and holding annual disposal days where the fee was waved entirely. As the economics shifted and the yard filled up, Al-Haddad said such incentives were no longer appropriate. As a result, the city has not hosted a free dump day in two years.

A workshop held by the City and Borough Assembly on September 26 sought to address the problem, which has pushed capacity at the waste transfer facility and affected public lots and open spaces. With prices still low and concerns over budget restrictions a priority, there were not many options to consider.

One potentiality Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch brought up to the Assembly at past meetings is an arrangement with Channel Construction in Juneau, which in the past has brought a barge to the island to offload excess scrap.

Al-Haddad explained another such run may be forthcoming, and that the city may arrange to have Channel load up excess scrap at no cost to the city, in exchange for allowing the company to dock without paying moorage fees. At the moment the idea is only informal, and the owner of Channel Construction was unavailable for comment by Tuesday's press time.

"We're just kind of standing by," said Al-Haddad.

For the time being, the city will focus on identifying and having removed items that are in the city's right-of-way.

"We've been tasked to provide the police department with a list of abandoned items," Al-Haddad said.

Because the locations of derelict boats, vehicles, containers and other items are located in various locations, their removal can fall to different jurisdictions. The Harbor Department, for example, maintains the use of its boatyard and harbor facilities, but not the adjoining parking lots, which fall under police purview.

On the policing end, when an object is deemed to have overstayed its welcome, ownership is determined and the owner notified. At times establishing an owner can be a complicated process, particularly when vehicles trade hands multiple times without a transfer of title. In those cases, authorities contact the last listed title holder and work with them to arrange removal.

"It's a bit of a process to take care of this stuff," said Al-Haddad. Beyond that, vehicles have to be properly drained of fluids and prepared for processing before they are ready to crush. But then space issues come into play, with options for storage limited by marshy muskeg or else alternate uses for city sites which would otherwise be ideal.

On a timeframe for removal of scrap and other junk items, Jabusch would like to see progress made soon, while the weather is agreeable.

"I think we want to get that done before snow flies, if that's possible," he commented.

 

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