The Agency of Natural Resources determined George McRae’s lot is no longer a junkyard under state statute, a recent decision reads.
McRae, who runs a towing operation on Middle Road in Milton, received the notice earlier this month, concluding he no longer possesses excess scrap or more than three unregistered junk vehicles, defined by Vermont law as a recycling yard.
After nearly landing in court, McRae settled, signing an assurance of discontinuance to clean his lot to ANR’s liking and agreeing to pay a $4,500 fine. Marc Roy, supervisor of ANR’s salvage yard program, gave the all clear on September 5.
“The yard is clearly segregated between vehicles that have been recently towed, customers’ vehicles that are being worked on for the garage business, and there weren’t many other vehicles,” Roy said. “The storage units have all been tidied up and cleaned up.”
The decision came a month after a site visit, during which Roy observed several junk vehicles, particularly three school buses, which McRae said belonged to Mountain Transit’s parent company. Obtaining those titles takes time, McRae explained in a follow-up letter. That satisfied ANR because, “they’re going to move after that,” Roy said.
Roy said his office’s involvement is basically ended, though he noted like any auto garage, McRae’s is subject to inspection by the hazardous waste division.
McRae also recently improved his storage of used oil and antifreeze to satisfy further ANR visits.
Even though McRae Truck & Auto is no longer a junkyard, its owner says he still wants a permit for one.
During the enforcement action, McRae sold all his junk to a scrapyard in Colchester and stored his extra vehicles at one in Milton, including those he previously donated to emergency crews for practice. He says this isn’t sustainable, particularly during winter, and wants all his inventory onsite.
McRae has applied for conditional use approval for an accessory salvage use, a definition that doesn’t exist in local zoning. He would need a town certificate of location approval before getting a state permit for salvage.
Complicating McRae’s quest is that Milton zoning now only permits salvage in the industrial district and only if the operation existed before 1994. But Planning Director Katherine Sonnick recognized McRae is seeking something different.
“We don’t really have a term ‘accessory use for a recycling yard,’ which makes me unclear if we can approve something like that. We do allow accessory uses to a primary use,” she said. “This could be a possible way for him to get approval.”
Sonnick said staff is still reviewing the application.
If that doesn’t work, McRae said he’ll try to get the new zoning rule reversed. Calling it an “inappropriate” change, he said, “Zoning is supposed to protect the property of the people. It’s not supposed to arbitrarily come in with an iron hammer.”
McRae is bitter he was told he didn’t need a permit when the town enacted its salvage yard moratorium in the 1990s. Now the town is holding him up, he said.
“I got caught in the whirlwind and really shouldn’t have been put there,” he said. “It wasn’t by my design.”
McRae has also asked for site plan approval, as the town required, to show recycled motor vehicle storage and other structures. Sonnick said if the development review board approves this request after his October 9 hearing, McRae will be in compliance.
McRae also hasn’t abandoned his mission to convince the legislature to define wrecker services in statute; had there been one, McRae argues, he wouldn’t have been slapped with the salvage yard label.
“Right now I’m being painted with a brush I shouldn’t be,” he said.
McRae said the state should recognize different levels of licenses and thinks ANR should back his idea, recognizing it can’t without a legislative change. A proposed bill last session floundered because McRae’s litigation was pending.
ANR’s Roy said he’d consider McRae’s proposal and agreed the salvage yard law is vague, covering both obvious violators and collectors if they don’t register their hobby vehicles.
“If George and the industry were able to come up with a definition … separate from salvage, all the power to him,” Roy said. “At this point, we’re busy working on the program. I don’t see the agency is going to be proposing any changes to the statute.”
McRae said he’d comply with current regulations but hopes to turn things around.
“It’s time for me to get something to start going my way, because I’ve been letting it go everyone else’s way long enough,” he said. “They wanted to make an example of me; they did it.”