On May 18, 2023

Salvage yard trial has mixed results

By Curt Peterson

Eighty-year old Hartland businessman David Cowdry represented himself May 4 at the Windsor County Courthouse in Woodstock, facing two attorneys and a couple of environmental enforcement professionals from the state.

At issue is Cowdry’s property on Route 12 in Hartland that the state says must be cleared of inoperable vehicles or “junk cars” and their related scrap and parts. According to Cowdry, the vehicles are inventory for his business, using parts of the problem vehicles to assemble affordable transportation “for people who don’t have the money to buy newer cars.” He’s been operating this way since 1964.

This trial before Windsor County Judge Charles Walsh was the culmination of wrangling since 2019. 

Cowdry, whose son Alan owns and operates Dave’s Skunk Hollow Auto Sales and Repairs on his father’s property, stores more than 100 inoperable vehicles. State law dictates any property that has more than three junk cars must have a salvage yard permit, which first requires town approval. 

When Cowdry presented a site plan to the Hartland selectboard for approval, they inspected the property and provided a list of site plan changes necessary for their agreement. Cowdry claims he discontinued his application for permit because “having a salvage yard operation wouldn’t be fair to his neighbors.” He subsequently applied for a used car dealer’s license, which he incorrectly thought would solve his problem. The property was regarded to provide an outdoor “showroom” for about 20 roadworthy-appearing vehicles, and Cowdry began clearing some units from the back of his property.

The state says the used car permit doesn’t solve the problem, and Cowdry owes a $750 fee for each year since 2019 that he should have had a salvage yard permit, plus $9,000 in fines for violation of state orders to clean up the site. 

They are particularly concerned about vehicle fluids – oil, brake and transmission fluids, etc. – that they feel present a time-bomb of environmental problems.

The state’s half-hour testimony and presentation of evidence completed, Judge Walsh went “off the record” and asked Cowdry when he could clear the property of the “junk cars”. Cowdry said he could do it by the end of the summer, but Walsh, who said he has personally surveyed the site, suggested a more realistic deadline might be “when the first snow flies”, and proposed two parties confer in private and reach “an agreement neither liked, but both could live with”, adding failure to do so would probably result in an unfavorable decision for Cowdry.

Cowdry reported the agreement still calls for him to pay the fines, and he has till November 1 to complete the clean-up, which involves hauling vehicles one at a time to a licensed scrap dealer. 

His plan, he said, includes presenting a new site plan to the Select Board delineating a 10,000 square-foot area to which he will confine inventory. If he can get Select Board approval he will apply for a salvage yard permit from the state.

On May 10 Cowdry’s efforts to comply with the agreement were evident, and he said he is arranging a meeting with acting Town Manager Martin Dole to review his site plan proposal.

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