A long simmering dispute over a Helga Township auto business labeled an eyesore and potential environmental hazard by township officials flared at Wednesday's Hubbard County board meeting.
Four of the township officers trooped into the board meeting to complain about what they term a "junkyard" operating off Highway 71 belonging to Mike Lyle, called Mike's Auto Salvage & Auto Body Repair. The fifth officer, who was not present, is Lyle's father.
Township officers claim Lyle is illegally operating a car crushing business again, after a judge ordered him not to last summer.
Dozens of abandoned cars, tires and other parts are lined up inside the fence at Mike's Auto Salvage & Auto Body Repair on Highway 71 north. Township officers have complained the site is a toxic nuisance.
"We've issued a cease and desist order," said township officer Mark Donat in frustration. "We can't get any help. How else are we going to enforce this? There's five or six things in that (Hubbard County) solid waste ordinance he's not doing."
County attorney Don Dearstyne said his office likely does not have the authority to enforce a township cease and desist letter. It's not an official court order, he told the township.
He suggested the officers get proof of illegal activities and he can prosecute. Or they can get a judge to issue a cease and desist order and it will be enforced.
Helga Township has its own zoning ordinances. It issued Lyle a conditional use permit to conduct his auto body shop, but not a crushing operation.
Lyle was convicted of two criminal counts of violating the county's solid waste ordinance last summer after he moved his car crushing operation to Lake George and was found to have illegally operated a junkyard at the Helga Township location. He was fined and assessed fees on both charges totaling about $900. But he was also placed on one year's probation on the condition he cease operating a car crushing operation or face a 20-day jail sentence.
Township officers said they've repeatedly turned to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for assistance and gotten nowhere.
"They do nothing," said board chair Lyle Robinson.
"The hazardous waste inspector and the compliance coordinator are familiar with the salvage site in Helga Township," e-mailed Daniel Olson, MPCA public information officer. "The MPCA has initiated actions to ensure compliance with hazardous waste and storm water control regulations at this site."
"He could be dumping solid waste in the ground for 10 years before they catch it," said township officer Wes Hegna.
Lyle was not at the meeting. An employee, Todd Wilson, said he has pneumonia and is unable to work. He could not be reached for comment.
Wilson denied the business has resumed crushing cars.
"At the price of steel nobody's crushing," he said. "We're just doing salvage and body work."
But the business does not have a county license to do salvage work and that is what is bothering township officials. Salvage equals junkyard in the statutes, they maintain, based on the number of unlicensed vehicles on the premises.
"I don't think anyone wants to live next to a junkyard," Hegna said.
"It's wrecking our environment," Donat said.
Commissioner Dick Devine said the untenable situation was bureaucracy at its worst.
"If your septic overflows they'll kick you out of your house," he said. "This is ridiculous."
"You need to file a complaint against him so he'll do 20 days in jail," Robinson suggested. "That'll get his attention."
Commissioner Cal Johannsen said the "township bent over backwards" to help Lyle get his business operating legally.
The officers said they even helped him fill out the permit work but Lyle didn't want to pay the bond required.
"He's a moving target and you're trying to catch up with a moving target," Devine said.
Commissioners acknowledged they've had complaints about oil from the crushing operations running through the ditches and in creek waters nearby. Some have seen it.
The business has numerous vehicles and tires stacked up behind a fence.
Lyle's probation ends Aug. 18, Dearstyne said if no evidence can be found proving he has violated the conditions of his probation, Lyle cannot be brought back into court on the earlier charges.
The township officers met with Dearstyne after the meeting, but he said until he gets proof of illegal activities, his office is limited on any actions it can take.