Junk Cars Pile Up at Unlicensed Dump
Town Officials Want Graveyard Cleared in Edgartown
By MANDY LOCKE
Hallgate is 60 sprawling acres of undeveloped land along the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. This would-be subdivision has been tagged in more recent years as Edgartown's "car dump" - a final resting place for the battered hulks of automobiles.
From the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, drivers can spot a flatbed trailer weighed with junk cars stacked three deep. Just beyond that gentle slope in the dirt road, rows of beaten cars and trucks stretch as far as the eye can see. The collection is authentically Vineyard - Lambert's Cove Beach passes and Edgartown dump stickers barely discernible through broken windshields, Mopeds Are Dangerous stickers hanging from rusty bumpers.
Somehow in this land of the dead, the cars seem to multiply.
Thirty-three cars in February of 2000 became 50 by fall of that year. Twenty-three more arrived that winter, bringing the tally to 73 by March of 2001. Last Tuesday, 98 junk cars littered Benjamin (Buzzy) Hall's land. One more joined the lot mid-morning when a tow truck lowered the chain that blocks the drive to deliver a gray sedan.
"It's aggravating. We're being a host for everyone's car," Mr. Hall said.
Just as disconcerting as the sight in Hallgate are the stories that explain how some 99 junk cars came to rest on Mr. Hall's property without his expressed permission.
For at least two years, the dumping ground has been a headache for Edgartown town officials, a heartache for the Halls and an eyesore for neighbors.
Mr. Hall said that three years ago he gave neighbor Pat Kelly - who owns Edgartown Auto - permission to put a few vehicles on the site while they awaited trucking off-Island to a junkyard. Somehow a few became dozens, and other auto shops joined Mr. Kelly in using the land for their overflow.
"We would drive down Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and see a tow truck driver slow down near the driveway. Then, they would see Buzzy's car and not turn in," said Therese Hall, Mr. Hall's wife.
And there are others, Mr. Hall said, that arrived in secret - using the night to hide the crime of illegal dumping.
"Every time we block off the front drive, 10 more come in the back drive," Mr. Hall said.
In the last few weeks, at least a dozen more junk cars joined the collection at the town's urging.
Edgartown building and zoning inspector Lenny Jason directed the removal of unregistered vehicles from three private properties. Mr. Kelly and Kippy Gaspar of Pilgrim Auto delivered the vehicles to Hallgate free of charge. The town is kicking in the funds for removal of those cars. It's not clear how these new additions will be distinguishable from the others.
"My property is being used as a staging area without my permission," Mr. Hall complained.
Mr. Kelly said he rents the front 10 acres of the site from the Halls. They deny this claim. Regardless of any arrangement with Mr. Hall, Mr. Kelly has no license to store and remove abandoned cars from the property. In fact, his special permit to operate a small auto shop in a residential zone restricts him to no more than 15 cars on his property at a time.
Mr. Jason said that if the town did not fund the disposal of vehicles from homes on Pinehurst Road, 12th street and Weeks Lane, the homeowners could never afford to get rid of them. Neighbors have complained to selectmen about the Weeks Lane property for well over a year. Two weeks ago, Mr. Jason told selectmen the Weeks Lane property was being addressed, but he did not explain the details of his clean-up plan.
Mr. Jason is pulling money from some $3,000 in his expense account allocated for junk car removal. Typically, this money is used for disposal of vehicles abandoned on town property, not private property.
"I'm sure some people will be upset that the town is paying, but that's the only way we'll get rid of it," Edgartown selectman Fred B. Morgan said.
Eventually, the junkers Mr. Jason had relocated to Hallgate will board a trailer, nine at a time, for trips to a junkyard in Brighton. That will be the eventual fate of all 99 cars in the dumping ground, Mr. Kelly said.
The ferry trip alone carries a price tag of $250 per load, Mr. Kelly said. The hauler gets his paycheck through the load's weight in scrap metal - $22.50 per ton. To drive up the metal weight, Mr. Kelly fills the cars with odds and ends of scrap metal from his shop.
Mr. Kelly charges $200 for handling a junk car. He said he drains oil, gasoline and antifreeze from the vehicles, then drops them in the illegal dump. To conserve room, Mr. Kelly often crushes and stacks the vehicles three high.
"It's a pretty clean operation," Mr. Kelly said. Edgartown board of health agent Matthew Poole said he regularly checks the area for spillage from the vehicles. He said he has been unable to find any leaks.
"I'm trying to help the town out, and this is the easiest way to do it," Mr. Kelly added.
The town is helping Mr. Kelly out as well. He's been allowed to continue his operation of collecting, preparing and hauling junk cars without any permit.
The building inspector's records show no letter of warning or citation to either Mr. Kelly or Mr. Hall for operations at the auto dump. Assistant building inspector Ursula Prada, however, said Mr. Jason could have sent such a letter without putting a copy into the office database.
The Edgartown zoning bylaws state: "No person shall have more than one unregistered car or truck ungaraged on the premises owned by him or under his control, and under no circumstances shall any unregistered or unsightly car or truck be stored in the front yard of said premises." Penalties carry a fine of $50 per day, per vehicle.
If town bylaws and maximum fines had been applied to this site since Feb. 21, 2001, when the police department listed an inventory of 73 vehicles on the premises, the town could have collected some $1.5 million in fines by now.
"I'm not renting [the property] or benefiting in any way. I'm not running this as a business," Mr. Hall said, arguing that he should incur no financial responsibility for the current state of his property.
On the other hand, if Edgartown police had been asked to investigate and charge parties with abandoning vehicles, fines could have been levied at a rate of $250 a car and $500 for multiple offenses by the same person.
But the "car dump" is not the work of the people trying to get away with the crime of abandoning a vehicle. Open trunks reveal family photos with recognizable Vineyard residents. Massachusetts plates still hang from some cars. A certificate of registration sits in plain view on the dashboard of a Taurus.
Mr. Kelly does not know when the entire property will be cleared.
"I'm not making it a lifelong career. I'm just doing it as a community service for a while," Mr. Kelly said.
In the meantime, Vineyard youth make the area an after-hours playground. Hoods, trunks and doors become tablets for graffiti and targets for batting practice.
While Mr. Hall said the police and fire departments have keys to open the chain that blocks the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road entrance, moving a fire truck through the car-lined narrow passage could prove impossible. Edgartown police chief Paul Condlin alerted selectmen in a letter dated Feb. 28, 2000 that emergency medical vehicles would have difficulty responding to a brush fire on Mr. Hall's property. Selectmen passed along Chief Condlin's letter of concern to Mr. Jason to address.
"Crimes are being committed here and everyone's pointing fingers. I'm the victim," Mr. Hall said, bemoaning the devaluation of his property.