lwaco, Ocean Park group look for ways to clean up rusting hulksPENINSULA - They spring up overnight like mushrooms. They appear in fields, along roadsides or in vacant lots. A property owner might be trimming berry bushes in a remote corner of their land, only to discover them hidden amidst the overgrowth. Some people just seem to like to collect them, keeping several in their yards at once. They are junk cars

"Cars have always come here as a final resting place," said Joel Anderson, owner of Part Time Auto Wrecking, the only licensed auto dismantler on the Peninsula. In his 20 years of business he estimates he has disposed of more than 6,000 junk cars.

According to Washington state law, a junk vehicle is defined by meeting three of four criteria. It must be three years old or older, have extensive damage, be inoperable, or have the fair market value equal only to the scrap in it.

"It is a big problem," said Tom Morrow, president of the North Peninsula Improvement Association (NPIA). "Removing junk cars is one of the objectives of NPIA."

The problem is junk vehicles do pose a hazard. They are attractive nuisances for children who can injure themselves on rusted metal, triggering a trip to the doctor and a tetanus shot. They attract rodents, insects and other pests. Dripping oil and other fluids can leach into the soil, potentially contaminating water supplies. And because they are unsightly, they can drive down the property values in neighborhoods.

"I know a couple who keep an Oysterville address because they are embarrassed to say they are from Oceanside," said Morrow.

Local communities are pulling together to try to remove junk vehicles. NPIA has been working for years to remove them. Recently, they succeeded in having three hauled off. The city of Ilwaco has proposed an ordinance, and hopes to simplify ordinances to make it easier for people to voluntarily remove the junk vehicles from their property.

"Locating them is not a problem," said Sheriff John Didion. "The problem is how to dispose of them. We've been trying to find a solution locally."

The Sheriff's office is often called in to investigate abandoned or junk cars, but Didion admits they are low on their list of priorities, with crime and narcotic complaints taking precedence.

"It's still something we have to deal with," he said.

According to Pacific County Community Development Director Mike DeSimone, there are two classes of junk vehicles. Those on private property and those on county property or state right of ways. He emphasized that it is illegal to drag a car and abandon it on county property. When that happens, it costs the county and the taxpayers money to remove the car. The penalty can be up to a $5,000 fine and a year in jail.

The second class of junk vehicles is those located on private property. DeSimone said it is the responsibility of the property owner to remove the vehicle. He said the county is willing to work with property owners to get rid of the unwanted or recently discovered cars.

One option, if the property owner owns the car, is to haul it to Part Time Auto Wrecker in Ilwaco.

"If they have their affairs in order, it's easy to get rid of," said Anderson. The owner can simply sign over the title. Anderson will then drain the fluids, and remove the tires and the battery, as prescribed by law. The rest of the car Anderson sends to a shredder in Tacoma or sells parts from his yard.

While the original owner may not make money off the car, he will be improving his property value and avoiding fines. It is illegal to store junk vehicles on private property unless it is within a building or not visible from the street or other public or private property.

Sometimes, property owners do not have the title to a junk vehicle on their property. In those cases, the property owner can mail notification to the car's legal owner, requesting it be removed. If the owner does not respond in 15 days, the property owner has the right to dispose of the car, and charge the owner of the car for the removal costs.

If the property owner can not find the junk car's owner, he can fill out a form called a "Junk Vehicle Verification, Notification and Affidavit," which is available at the Sheriff's office. The Sheriff then verifies that the car was not stolen and the property owner can have the car towed away.

Desimone also suggests contacting out-of-town haulers or recyclers. Some charities will pick up junk vehicles at no charge, but the Peninsula's remote location does make it difficult.

"We're trying to deal with the problem," said DeSimone.

For more information, contact the Department of Community Development at 642-9356.

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