In this April 29, 2016 photo, an old car is parked on the side of the road near the bluff in Clam Gulch, Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

Borough kicks more money into junk car removal

The borough is planning to put a little more oomph into keeping junk cars out of its roads.

Along with the moose and eagles, abandoned and broken-down vehicles are a common sight in many areas of the Kenai Peninsula. Some cities, like Kenai, have enforcement codes to crack down on unsightly abandoned and junk vehicles in city limits, but outside the cities there are no regulations other than keeping them out of the borough right-of-way.

In the fiscal year 2019 budget, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved a line item kicking an extra $30,000 specifically toward removing junk cars from borough roads. It’s a safety hazard for drivers, borough road maintenance equipment, and possibly emergency vehicles, said assembly member Willy Dunne at the June 5 meeting.

Though the original budget amount for contract services in the Roads Service Area was $70,000, only $3,000 of that was allocated to specifically removing abandoned vehicles from rights-of-way, he said. Several constituents on the southern peninsula have been working with the borough to deal with a specific problem area, but it’s an issue in a variety of areas, he said.

“It’s been an increasing problem,” he said. “I don’t know exactly how many vehicles could be removed for $3,000, but an addition of $30,000 to deal with hazardous items in the borough rights-of-way could help the department deal with the problem more thoroughly.”

Borough code prohibits anyone from leaving an object in the right-of-way without an encroachment permit, which can be issued by the Road Service Area director. But to remove something from the right of way like a vehicle, the borough has to provide notice to the owner describing the violation. If the owner doesn’t remove it, the borough can have it towed.

However, that costs money, in part for the towing and in part for the cleanup. The borough takes the cars to Central Peninsula Landfill, which requires the vehicles to be drained of all fluids and hazardous materials, trash and mercury switches, among other items.

The borough government plans to be more proactive about finding the owners and enforcing the code to recover costs and discourage other people from disposing of vehicles in borough rights-of-way, said Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce at the meeting.

“We’re going to be aggressive about it,” he said. “You can anticipate that we’re going to follow some of these owners who have abandoned their vehicles in the right-of-way and hold them accountable, so there may be some legal expenses as well.”

Peninsula Scrap and Salvage on Kalifornsky Beach Road in Kenai recycles junk cars. Right now, the business offers payment for them as well, though that changes depending on the commodity market prices, said Soldotna office manager Kimber Smith.

“We don’t take motor homes and we don’t take camp trailers — they’re just too labor intensive and they’re more garbage than you get out of them,” she said. “So long as you strip off the back of the motor home, (we may take it). It can’t have the wood, the plastic … we do take trucks, we do take semis.”

The workers collect all the fluids out of the vehicles cleanly and dispose of the antifreeze. The business collects them until there is enough to justify a barge load south to Seattle, where the crushed cars are sent to steel mills in the Lower 48, she said.

The same barge takes the vehicles that are dropped off at Central Peninsula Landfill. Since Peninsula Scrap and Salvage opened, the borough’s landfill just south of Soldotna rarely sees any vehicles but does still take them for $10 per dropoff, said Solid Waste Department Director Jack Maryott. However, the landfill doesn’t drain any of the liquids or remove the hazardous materials — they require the person dropping it off to do that, he said.

“Right now the commodities swing up and down… we’ve gone to the point where we paid (Peninsula Scrap and Salvage) to take them to the point where the price of metal is very high, when we will have people approach us with quotes,” Maryott said. “Right now the market is that they take them for us, so right now we don’t have to manage them. They come and take care of that for us.”

People can drop off vehicles at the landfill near Soldotna or at the transfer sites in Homer or Seward, he said.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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