Health officials eye ‘junkyard’ task force

  • At its meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 29, Athol’s Board of Health took up the issue of front yard junkyards, proposing a task force to address the problem. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News 
Published: 12/5/2022 5:09:44 PM
Modified: 12/6/2022 12:16:05 AM

ATHOL — Local health officials are considering creating a task force to examine the problem of junkyards in town after discussion of what the Board of Health considered a problem property at its Nov. 29 meeting. 

 The term “junkyard” applies to private properties where junk cars, car parts, and associated debris are left in yards.

Assistant Health Agent Jane O’Brien gave an update on a property where the occupants had cleaned up refuse on the front lawn that created the potential for attracting vermin. She said a neighbor later called to complain that the occupants were now bringing unregistered vehicles onto the property — a problem, board member Joan Hamlett indicated was for the police, not for the health department.

“At this point,” said O’Brien, “we are not going to pursue anything unless it (the refuse) gets out of control again.”

“I don’t care how it looks,” said Hamlett. “Code doesn’t have to be pretty. If it’s not something that’s going to get rodents and wildlife or breed bugs, right? That’s what we’re looking for — and appliances that have the doors still on them. They can have metal and crap in their yard.”

Board member Raenette Kramer said that with vehicles comes the potential for hazardous waste.

“There’s oil, gas, and all that,” Kramer said. 

“What we need, and what we don’t have, is anything on the books so we can go after junkyards,” O’Brien said. “We can only go so far.”

When Hamlett asserted the problem could be addressed through zoning enforcement, O’Brien replied, “There’s nothing on the books for junkyards.”

“Right now,” said Hamlett, “we have several locations where people have unregistered cars all over the place. They’re not the only ones. We have a handful of junkyards in town. So, maybe at some point, when we’re done with the warming shelter task force, we can do a junkyard task force.

“We had that problem where there was four unregistered vehicles being stored at Riverbend and our own town didn’t do anything about it. There were four cars at Riverbend and they were up on cinder blocks — and they were there for months. This guy had free storage for two years. What got them moved is (the town was) auctioning the building.”

“This is kind of frustrating,” Hamlett continued, “that no one is really paying attention to this. So, that’s why I think we should do a task force to look at this. If we’re on a task force and all working together — us, the police, zoning, whoever should be involved — maybe we could come up with something.”

“It may not look like a board of health problem,” said Kramer, “but if it’s hazardous waste, if it’s leaking oil into the ground, that’s different.”

Hamlett said a junkyard is a “borderline violation because if they have anything that holds free-standing water, they’re mosquito breeding. It’s very rare we’re going to come across a junkyard that doesn’t have something in there that’s holding water that it shouldn’t be holding.

“So, I’d like to propose that when we get through the warming shelter task force, then maybe put together a spring task force to tackle junkyards; and under junkyards we’ll be working with other agencies.”

Contacted by a reporter, Building Inspector/Zoning Agent Bob Legare said there is a bylaw in town, “but it’s not written well.”

A section relating to junk vehicles, he said, “Talks about ‘unregistered, inoperable automobiles stored outdoors for more than six months shall be considered junk.’ So, what a lot of these people are doing is having their abandoned cars, but they keep them registered to avoid that bylaw.”

When it comes to enforcing the bylaw, Legare said, “If a reasonable person drives by a property and says ‘that’s a junkyard,’ that’s how I enforce it. I say ‘reasonable person’ because for every nine out of ten people, you’re going to have that tenth person — it could have a sign saying ‘welcome to the junkyard’ — and they’ll say ‘that’s not a junkyard.’ I try to use the standard of what a reasonable person would say.”

Asked about Hamlett’s proposal for a task force to address the problem, Legare said, “It wouldn’t hurt to do that. If we clean up the town we’re going to bring up property values and help the whole town to bring people in. We need to work on the bylaws in many areas, but a lot of people get worried when you try to create new bylaws.

“Bylaws are tough, and you can’t be too heavy-handed with them. But in the spring we could definitely look at it,” he said. 

Greg Vine can be reached at 

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