Sweep Away Junk Cars

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For those who do not know, December is National Car Donation Month! Sure, it’s not a holiday that typically supplants the visions of sugar plums dancing in kids’ heads. Then again, I’m not sure many kids dream of dancing sugar plums.

However, the observance of Car Donation Month brings to mind a somewhat related subject, junk cars. Organizers of Car Donation Month don’t want the thought of junk cars tied to donating cars. However, the issue of junk cars is a headache to many rural communities that needs to be addressed.

The Struggle with Junk Cars

The problem that junk cars have on rural communities is a significant hurdle to overcome. On top of the complaints received in regards to their impact on the aesthetics of a neighborhood, they also pose environmental problems. Although some communities have worked to improve their nuisance regulations to give themselves a “bigger hammer” to enforce cleanups, the lack of movement by some violators requires legal action. Legal action is of course not cheap and it of course creates a divide between the community and the landowner.

Junked Car

Photo by Erik Mclean from Pexels

Some communities have conducted “sweeps” where they send enforcement letters to all of the violators at once. This does help with some landowners who claim that they’ve been singled out. A sweep also creates efficiencies from a legal standpoint if a number of cases are handled at once and your city attorney and the local judicial representatives are on board with the event.

Carrot vs. Hammer

But if possible, it may be a better idea to try using a carrot, rather than a hammer. Why not incentivize vehicle removal? The community of Prince Rupert, B.C. (pop. 12,220) is offering a reduced fee to remove these junk cars. Through a bulk removal contract with a local salvage company, the cost to get the car hauled off is reduced.

By helping to subsidize the cost of removal, communities can help residents can also avoid nuisance violation charges that can pile up over time. It is a higher front-end cost, but the legal costs related to enforcement can be significantly more than the amount subsidized.

The State of Montana has made this easier on smaller communities. They’ve created a program that is paid through registration fees that pay for the removal of derelict cars that have no value to salvage yards. Missoula, Montana has a good webpage on their website dedicated to the program.

The State of Hawaii used to have a similar program, but funding for the program was not renewed. However, Maui has decided the continue the program on its own. There are a few specifics to their program that might be worth considering if your community decides to start its own program.

Start Your Own

Unfortunately, not many states have a program like the State of Montana’s. However, some states have grant funds that would help such a junk car sweep. Often funds from the state DNR or Health Department can conceivably be applied to such a program. Local philanthropic organizations may also show interest.

But do your research. Talk with those who would be involved with the process. Then make a procedural plan on how such a program would work. Then apply for funding with that plan in hand.

With the hoarding tendencies of some of these property owners, a program like this will be an uphill battle. But the rewards for your community are worth the struggle.

Christopher Solberg

About Chris Solberg

Though Christopher Solberg (AICP) works in a suburb of a metropolitan area, his roots are in Red Oak, Iowa, a community of 5,500 persons southeast of Omaha. He has spent a significant amount of his career helping small towns. Through his time working for a regional planning association and for a private consultant Chris has helped numerous small towns throughout Iowa and Nebraska. Chris is also currently the President of the Nebraska Planning and Zoning Association (NPZA) and a member of the NE APA Nebraska Board.