Program to get rid of junk vehicles gets mixed reviews

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An angry response from junk car dealers has forced Tooele County to rethink a rural cleanup program. The county paid to get junk cars out of yards and fields, and now officials aren't so sure they did the right thing.

Tooele County is not admitting to a mistake, exactly. But they admit they were surprised by the response when they paid for junk cars. They thought they were doing something good, but it was greeted by some as a very bad thing.

Tooele County Commissioner Jerry Hurst
Tooele County Commissioner Jerry Hurst

Tooele County Commissioner Jerry Hurst said, "We've got a lot of junk cars sitting in yards all over, and they've become an eyesore, and to get rid of them, I thought, was a great idea." Hurst said he is now having second thoughts.

What they didn't count on was junk car experts like Steve Riddle, with Riddle's Salvage and Wrecking, getting madder than, well, a junkyard dog. He said, "They're using my tax dollars to work against me!"

The federal grant paid $150 for every junk vehicle. Owners flooded the county landfill with junk, 120 cars, and walked away with the loot.

Hurst said he wasn't surprised that there were so many junk cars out there that people were willing to give up. "Some places in the county, I'll see dozens of cars in one yard," he said. "So no, that didn't surprise me. There's a lot more out there. I'll guarantee that."

Half a vehicle didn't qualify. So the owner of one decided to mash two of them together, and he got the full price: $150.

Steve Riddle, with Riddle's Salvage and Wrecking
Steve Riddle, with Riddle's Salvage and Wrecking

But auto wrecking companies squeaked like an ungreased wheel. They buy junk cars, too. But Riddle said he can afford to pay only $100 or less for a car, hoping to make a profit by selling scrap. Riddle said, "So when the county's doing it, how can I compete with the county?"

The junkyard criticism turned heads around at the county. Hurst said, "It kind of took me by surprise that they were upset, and I can understand their ideas, too."

The federal grant is used up for this year. If they renew it in the future, county officials plan to sit down and negotiate with the auto-salvage companies. They hope to work out a way to cut them in, instead of leaving them out as competitors.


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