Havre Daily News
Hill and Blaine counties may soon share more than a garbage heap at the Unified Disposal Landfill located in Blaine County along U.S. Highway 2 between Chinook and Havre. If the state Department of Environmental Quality agrees, the two counties will begin dumping old, wrecked and abandoned vehicles atop a hill on the south side of the landfill out of sight of the highway.
The Blaine County Commission recently submitted a request to the state to place a motor vehicle graveyard at the Unified Disposal Landfill.
“What pushed it is Hill County doesn't have a site,” Blaine County Commissioner Don Swenson said. “We've got a site we use right now in Harlem, but it's in a location where it's muddy and whatnot, and it's not a good site. So (the landfill) can be used by both counties.”
Hill County sanitarian and planner Clay Vincent said Hill County has historically contracted out the service to area wreckers and salvage companies because it didn't have land of its own to store the vehicles. Soaring costs fueled the commission's decision not to seek a new contract, he said, but to get permission to use the landfill to store the vehicles until the vehicles can be crushed and transported for recycling.
“I've been running this program for 23 years now, and the cost of doing business just keeps going up and up and up,” Vincent said.
He said the cost to tow a car has been $60 to $65 per car plus $3 to $4 per loaded mile, the distance a wrecker travels with the vehicle in tow. And the county has also had to pay the contraactor to store the cars until a recycler could pick them up.
The last contract ran out on June 30, so the cars are still sitting at the owners' properties, he added.
The proposed facility, which the DEQ is reviewing under the Motor Vehicle Recycling and Disposal Act, would cover about 250 acres. The state began a 30-day public comment period on Feb. 8.
People will not be allowed to haul junk vehicles to the site, if it is approved, Swenson said. Instead, they'll have to contact a county sanitarian and the county will arrange to move the vehicle.
“They have to sign an authorization form releasing (their vehicle) to the junk vehicle program and it then belongs to the state of Montana,” Vincent said.
He said the Hill County Road Department has agreed to pick up and haul authorized vehicles to the landfill.
“We just got a vehicle that has a tilt-bed on it last week,” Vincent said.
He said the county bought a used truck from Missoula that has 100,000 miles on it. The Road Department will have other uses for it, he said, but it was purchased primarily to run the junk vehicle program.
“This is definitely more work for us, because the county is going to have to go out and manage this thing,” Vincent said. “If it doesn't work, we'll go back the other way.”
Blaine County, on the other hand, uses contractors to make the pickups, Swenson said.
In neither case does the former owner have to pay anything.
The cost of operating the graveyard will be partially covered by the $1 junk vehicle fee every vehicle owner pays when buying license plates each year.
When enough vehicles pile up at the site, Vincent said, the state will take bids from recycling companies, usually lumping the graveyard in Blaine County and others nearby in the contract, Vincent said. The company that bids the highest dollar amount per ton will likely get the contract to crush the vehicles and haul them away.
Vincent added that Blaine and Hill counties would keep a tally of the vehicles they have at the site and split the costs and profits. The profits won't last long, though, he said, because that money will be used to cover the costs of picking up more junk vehicles.
“There are liability and collection costs usually associated with towing,” Vincent said. “And we only want junk vehicles. We're not in competition” with the towing companies.
Vincent said vehicle owners are lining up to get rid of their wrecks since the county quit contracting out the storage.
“I already have 15, 20 cars right now that need to be picked up,” Vincent said. “And they have to be junk vehicles. We've picked up vehicles that were in 100 pieces - the hood over here, the doors over there.”
Written comments about the proposed graveyard can be mailed to DEQ, Motor Vehicle Recycling and Disposal Program, P.O. Box 200901, Helena, MT 59620-0901.