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Tue, Sept. 17

Junk yard may be closed but dumping, salvaging continues, neighbors upset

Property lines can make all the difference, especially where someone else's mess is concerned.

Photo at left: Chino Valley resident Paul Gerace is trying to get the Town of Chino Valley to clean up the metal scraps, old cars, bags of garbage and more, outside the closed Chino Salvage across the road from his home.

People have dumped old cars and car parts, old furnaces, used-up water heater, piles of metal scraps and broken glass and bags of garbage, among other junk outside the Chino Salvage yard in a neighborhood east of Road 4 North.

The business, whose previous owners only leased the property, closed operations a few months ago. But the people dumping the junk don't seem to care about that fact. They leave it outside the gates and take off.

The fence comes right up to the edge of the property, so all the junk is sitting on Town of Chino Valley property, on the street easement.

Paul Gerace, who lives on Florida Lane, directly across from the salvage yard, has stopped at least 20 dumpers and told them the yard is closed. He says many simply do not know it's closed and peacefully leave. He supposes that the ones he doesn't catch think they are giving the business something for free.

Actually, the salvaging business continues almost as normal, Gerace says, with the junk on the street easement. About one-third of the time people are not dumping but picking up car parts, usable junk and even whole cars.

"I see the water heater's gone today," Gerace said. "You can cut one of those things in half and make a barbecue grill out of it," he laughed.

"Some people will tell me, 'I'm not dropping; I'm taking,'" said Gerace, who is retired and sees all the comings and goings. As of this past Saturday, a total of eight cars sit on the easement, including the frame of a brightly painted replica of the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine van. Some dumpers leave the keys still in the ignition, a note of explanation and the car title signed off inside the car.

Gerace is sick of the mess and has been seeking a solution, but didn't think he was getting anywhere.

"I'm not an activist at all, but when I see something that hurts the majority then I, as a retiree, take the time to try to do it, where others don't have the time. I speak up," Gerace said.

He's gone to several departments at the town hall to see who is responsible, and to the police, to news media and most recently, to a public meeting to make a plea for grant dollars for either a massive clean-up project or for a public park in place of the junkyard.

"Nobody's coming out, so I'm trying to make some noise," Gerace said. "I read about the grants in the newspaper and it listed (projects for) beautification, slums – this fit every one of the criteria."

The property owner, Don Klepl of Prescott, said the junk is outside his property lines and also would like it cleaned up, but he can't do anything about it.

"I don't like it either," Klepl said. "Legally, I can't touch it; it's on public right of way."

"It's the Town's responsibility to clean up their own streets," he added.

Enter: the town. Yes, the junk sits on town property. A patrol officer first noticed one vehicle outside the gates that didn't seem to belong to anyone after some time. Then another appeared and another.

It's been a long process for the Chino Valley Police Department (CVPD) to be able to legally haul the junk cars away because the law considers them abandoned by the currently registered owner. They've sent letters to the vehicle owners demanding they move the cars or they will be charged a towing fee and get cited for a state law violation and a town ordinance violation. Some of the letter came back undeliverable by the post office.

In the meantime, the pile of junk seems to be growing.

"The problem is junk attracts junk," said CVPD Assistant Chief of Police Dave Kuns.

All the while, neighbors have to endure the unsightly sight.

Last Tuesday, Gerace attended the first of two public meetings the town sponsored regarding $380,000 in grant money available to the town through the 2002 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. He and others presented a description of the project and the need for it. (See article about the CDBG grant meeting is this issue.)

Gerace's squeaky-wheel approach just may get the solution he seeks – the town will soon legally be able to move the abandoned vehicles to a junkyard elsewhere that is open for business.

As for putting a park on the property, the property owner is open to any deal. He jokingly even thought the property would make a good graveyard – for mechanics.

(Contact Salina Sialega at ssialega@prescottaz.com.)

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