City covers clunker expenses

Starting Friday, the city’s Solid Waste Division will be footing the $150 disposal fee for residents who want to scrap their junked vehicles at Skookum Sales and Recycling.

The city recently signed a contract with Channel Construction, Skookum Recycling’s parent company, agreeing to pay the disposal fee for up to 400 vehicles, totaling $60,000. Though this solution isn’t cheap, it’s necessary if the city is to abate the growing number of abandoned vehicles, according to Solid Waste Coordinator Jim Penor.

“If we did nothing with the vehicles, we would have a junk car problem,” he said.

This isn’t the first time that Channel Construction and the city have worked together to take care of Juneau’s junked cars. For years, the city partnered with the company to hold two car collection roundups per year. The city would pay for the vehicle disposal fees — like it will starting Friday — and Skookum Recycling would take care of the cars.

These roundups stopped in 2010 when the price of scrap metal was high enough for Skookum Recycling to stop charging a disposal fee. The price of metal stayed high enough for the company to cover its scrapping costs until last year, when it started having to charge the $150 disposal fee. Even with the fee, scrapping cars was “kind of a break-even deal,” according to Dave Payne, Channel Construction’s compliance coordinator.

Scrapping a car comes with some costs. Billie-June Tonsgard works as the general manager at Skookum Recycling and oversees the scrapping process. Tonsgard and her staff have to remove the tires and drain the fluids — gasoline, antifreeze, oil, etc. — from each car that is to be scrapped. Skookum Recycling has to pay special fees to dispose of the tires and gas they remove from each car because neither can go in Juneau’s landfill.

“It’s outrageous how much it is to get rid of that stuff,” she said, explaining that the last gasoline disposal bill she paid was close to $10,000.

Both the tires and the gas are shipped out of Juneau to recycling centers on Alaska Marine Lines. The scrapped cars go to Seattle, and that shipping isn’t cheap either, Payne said. Skookum Recycling doesn’t charge a disposal fee for vehicles without tires or gas in their tanks.

Necessary though it may be to cover costs, the disposal fee had an unintended consequence, Penor said. It deterred many people from disposing of their junked vehicles in the proper manner.

“Once Skookum started charging the $150 fee, cars would mysteriously be pushed out in the street or left in parking lots where the city or the police had to deal with them,” he said.

Erann Kalwara, a spokesperson for the Juneau Police Department, corroborated Penor’s observation. In 2014, JPD impounded 66 abandoned vehicles. In 2015 — the year that Skookum Recycling started charging its disposal fee — that number nearly doubled, jumping to 114.

Penor hopes that the city-funded scrapping will help cut down on the number of cars being left in Juneau’s streets and parking lots. Ironically, however, the city has been paying to scrap Juneau’s junkers all along, Kalwara said.

Currently, the police department has to pay to tow abandoned vehicles to its impound lot, where they sit until officers determine what to do with them. JPD sends “multiple letters to the last registered owner” before it ultimately sends them to the scrapyard, again paying for the towing. On top of the towing costs, JPD has to pay the disposal fee once it gets the cars to Skookum Recycling.

“It does get quite expensive,” Kalwara said. “There’s a lot of time and money involved in that process.”

Penor’s new program will allow residents to drop off their vehicles at the Skookum Recycling any time between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The program is for personal vehicles only, including motor homes and travel trailers so long as their graywater tanks and refrigerators have been removed.

“It’s just the right thing to do to stay on top of the junk vehicles, so we don’t have a problem,” he said. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If we just stay on top of it, we won’t have a junk vehicle problem.”

• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or sam.degrave@juneauempire.com.

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