Junkyard Debate Spurs Select Board Race

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(Host) The town of Guilford is cracking down on unofficial junkyards that officials say are polluting the landscape.

But as VPR’s Susan Keese reports, recent letters calling for a cleanup have divided the town.

(Sound of engine cranking)

(Keese) Tuckie Houghton proudly shows off the assortment of old vehicles and rusted equipment behind his house in Guilford’s Weatherhead Hollow. The collection of a couple dozen disabled cars and discarded equipment occupies a strip about 100 yards long, barely visible from the road.

Houghton is retired from the septic pumping business. Before his retirement, he says he used the old vehicles to keep his fleet of trucks on the road. Now he says he’s keeping his boneyard of old metal as a matter of principal:

(Houghton) “It’s not really roadworthy, but it’s fine for around here.¿ And this I use on my tractor. It’s a loader for the tractor, and that truck has got a broken frame and a brand new motor in it.¿”

(Keese) But not everyone in Guilford sees beauty in an arrangement of old hoists and chassis:

(Fred Humphrey) “Some people think it’s the Vermont way of life to leave old junked cars and trash out in your front yard.¿”

(Keese) Fred Humphrey is the chairman of the Guilford Select Board.

(Humphrey) “¿Some people find this offensive, shiftless and even lazy. Then there’s another point of view, which is the fact that this is an issue about recycling and about contamination of the ground. And as a result of that, many years ago Vermont passed a junkyard law¿that regulates junkyards for that very reason.”

(Keese) Guilford has no zoning or town junkyard ordinance. As a result, it relies on state agencies to enforce the Vermont law. The law requires any assemblage of unregistered vehicles visible from a public road to apply for licensing as a junkyard.

Last year, the town of Guilford won a court order to clean up a big salvage and recycling operation. Many people feared it could pollute the drinking water downstream in Massachusetts. With that victory in hand, the town sent out letters to other locals who had old vehicles around. They asked the owners to remove the cars, get a local permit, and submit to state licensing. And that sparked some antagonism.

The letters prompted a challenge to Selectman Humphrey who’s up for re-election on Town Meeting Day. The challenger is Richard Clark, a lifelong Guilford resident. Clark says he hopes to tighten up on the town budget, and lighten up on the junkyard issue:

(Clark) “This country wasn’t built on going to the local store and buying new parts. It was built on using the old parts that we had stored out back, so to speak…. And I feel the same way about the local quote-unquote junkyards, as they’re called. If my car breaks down, chances are good I can go to one of these places and get parts cheaper and quicker than I can going to the store and buy it.”

(Keese) But Selectman Humphrey believes most Guilford residents think more like he does. He cites a recent planning commission survey. It concluded that the majority of those polled wanted the junkyards cleaned up:

(Humphrey) “These statements by those who want to have their junkyards and junk out in their front yards – that this is what the townspeople want – I do not feel in any way is supported by the broader information we’ve received.”

(Keese) At first, when Humprey visited Tuckie Houghton’s yard and asked him to clean it up, Houghton agreed. Houghton says he was going to do it anyway.

But after talking with others who got letters, Houghton changed his mind. He says didn’t like being told what to do on his own land, so he’s going wait and see what happens in the March election:

(Houghton) “See this part is broken (clank). You can see that’s one part of it that’s intact¿. We could put that on and use that as a pattern to rebuild and make a usable loader out of it. But I probably won’t do that¿.”

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Guilford.

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