ILWACO — Smashed cars are stacking up at a scrapyard along Baker Bay, and so are the complaints about it.
Twenty-one neighbors reported concerns about Ron’s Recycling to Pacific County authorities in August. Their complaint urged officials to enforce rules for the auto-wrecker and metal-scrapper on Stringtown Road.
With rusty clunkers heaped higher than the fence, junk cluttered outside the gate, and the hum of heavy equipment on Saturdays, neighbors reported three possible permit violations.
“That’s just what we can see from outside,” said Brad Hadfield, a fishing guide and retired firefighter who lives nearby. “We really don’t know what’s going on behind the fence.”
Owner Ron Shivers, of Knappa, Oregon, runs the scrapyard south of Ilwaco with his daughter Kristy Shivers, of Astoria. After five years, he’s tired of certain neighbors and their accusations against his business.
“We’re a legal operation,” Shivers said. “They’re like the Energizer Bunny. They just keep going, and going, and going.”
In 2012, residential property owners in the neighborhood tried to stop the fledgling business from getting the permits it needed from county and state regulators.
The county Department of Community Development opened its first code-enforcement case against the scrapyard in 2013, Deputy Director Shawn Humphreys said. Officials have since visited several times to help the recycler meet the requirements of its county permit, he said. It remains in effect until Shivers sells or closes the business.
A ‘cat and mouse’ game
The department has looked into at least six other complaints made against Ron’s Recycling from 2014 to 2017, county records show. According to staff emails, the county launched its latest investigation of the scrapyard after hearing from the 21 neighbors.
Randy Bloom was among those who signed the complaint. The Ilwaco High history teacher said problems seem to improve for a while after someone speaks up, but before long, the business slips back into rule-bending ways.
“You’re basically playing a game of cat and mouse,” Bloom said. “It’s been quite the mess.”
The county permit bars Ron’s from running noisy equipment on weekends, but neighbors say they usually hear it all day long on Saturdays. Records show Shivers has denied such claims when questioned by authorities. On Friday, he told the Observer, he does work with heavy machinery on Saturdays because believes he’s allowed to do so.
The Washington State Patrol enforces some regulations for wrecking yards. Trooper Russ Winger said inspectors mostly check documents, such as permits, licenses and monthly reports during site visits.
“It’s kind of like a record-keeping inspection,” he said.
If there are complaints, the agency looks into them, too. Winger said that over the summer, inspector Joseph Pudio checked into a report neighbors made about the fence around Ron’s Recycling, and the junk collection outside its gate.
Pudio found the 8-foot fence adequately blocked view of the scrapyard from the road and surrounding area. The state requires fencing that “reasonably” hides the bulk of the operation. It doesn’t have to totally obscure it, Winger said.
Under the county permit, Ron’s Recycling must have a fence that’s “sufficient to shield the operation.”
Pudio told Shivers to clean up the mess outside his gate in April and again in July, records show. During his most recent check on Sept. 27, Pudio found Shivers had taken care of it.
Information on other site checks and violations reported to State Patrol was not immediately available.
Kristy Shivers said the area outside the gate will sometimes still fill up. On a busy day, she might have 10 cars dropped off. It’s not always possible to process all of them into the yard by closing time.
“Everything we’re doing is legit,” she said.
The Blooms, the Hadfields and others aren’t ready to take her word for it. They worry whether hazardous waste from the operation could contaminate their wells, pollute the bay and harm fish and wildlife.
“We just want to make sure the rules are being followed,” said Judy Hadfield, a retired advertising businesswoman.
If officials at public agencies don’t look into concerns and report back, she said, neighbors really have no way to find out whether nearby water and their wells are being affected.
The county officials don’t know either. Humphreys said there haven’t been “any tests or evidence to confirm or deny” the possibility of contamination.
Ron’s Recycling does have a drainage system that was approved by an engineer in 2012, he said.
County staff in 2014 filed a complaint that included a permit violation for handling stormwater runoff, records show. They’ve also worked with the business to help it comply with other environmental rules.
The state Department of Ecology has sent site inspectors to Ron’s Recycling twice in the past five years, most recently in June 2015.
“They said our place looks better than most scrapyards,” Shivers said. “If we spill oil or something, we clean it up right away.”
Ecology officials have written five violations, all for paperwork, since the business’s current stormwater permit was issued in 2015. Spokesman David Bennett said three of them were for failing to turn in required reports, the other two were for sending them late.
The business also went through a state environmental review before it was approved.
Here to stay
Some of his residential neighbors might not like living near an industrial business, but, Shivers said, many others are glad he’s around.
His business recycles thousands of pounds of scrap metal and hundreds of vehicles each year.
The hazardous fluids, Shivers said, are pumped out of vehicles and stored in safe containers. American Petroleum picks them up to take them away for disposal. Despite rocky relations with neighbors, Shivers said business has been good. And with almost seven acres, there’s plenty of room to grow. He and Kristy hope to expand the operation in next few years.
“We’re doing what I consider to be a service for the community,” he said.