Wetlands risk ups concern over junked cars in Dalton
DALTON — Motorhead that he is, Brian O'Neil keeps certain dates in his head, like a local racetrack's "Eve of Destruction" event coming July 2.
Some of the unregistered vehicles stacking up at his home at 326 Old Windsor Road have dates with destiny at Lebanon Valley Speedway, O'Neil told officials this week, and likely won't be coming home.
"They usually get totaled out," O'Neil said.
But that wasn't enough to win him a pass from the town's junk car bylaw, especially amid concerns that some of the 10 or more vehicles on his property could be leaking fluids into wetlands.
Officials had different dates in mind: Looming deadlines for O'Neil and other Dalton property owners to comply with a yearly police crackdown on junk cars.
On top of that, neighbors say they are unhappy with O'Neil's collection of unregistered vehicles, which he works on outdoors.
Several neighbors attended a recent Select Board meeting hoping to see steps taken to clean up the property, while also expressing sympathy for O'Neil's effort to pursue a livelihood involving vehicles without having access to a garage to perform repairs.
"We had a problem with the cars being put back in the wetlands," said neighbor Cheryl D. Nelsen. "It's been a concern since he moved in. It's a residential area."
Nelsen added: "I know he's trying to make a living. We all are."
Fred R. Limburg, of 334 Old Windsor Road, said he met his new neighbor after trees came down and O'Neil responded to help.
But like Nelsen, he asked officials for relief from the look of vehicles in front of and behind O'Neil's house.
"We used to have a nice view from the house," said Limburg, whose home sits on a rise to the east of O'Neil's property. "We don't anymore."
In his second recent appearance before the board, O'Neil expressed frustration with the junk vehicles bylaw, saying he has been looking for another location to store vehicles. He said he has rebuilt some vehicles for off-road use. "I'd like to work on them in the yard."
Asked by the board what he was prepared to do, O'Neil said: "I'm trying to make everyone else happy, I guess." He said that since visiting the board April 22, he had removed two cars and had loaded a third onto a trailer.
O'Neil invited officials to examine whether vehicles in a swampy area behind his house are leaking motor oil, gas or brake fluid, as several people said remains possible.
Robert W. Bishop Jr., a board member who also sits on the Conservation Commission, warned O'Neil that he would find no sympathy from that other body, saying the commission would order removal of the vehicles. He ticked off steps the commission would take — all of which would complicate O'Neil's situation.
"I have a problem where they are right now," said Select Board Chairman John Bartels Jr. "It's swampy."
Though O'Neil faced a June 1 deadline to remove unregistered vehicles, he won an extra month Monday from the Select Board — which also added an incentive. If O'Neil complies by July 8, he won't face fines that were approaching $300 per vehicle.
"I feel for you, but it is what it is," said board member Marc E. Strout. "It's a residential area."
O'Neil agreed to have unregistered vehicles off the property by July 8 and, before that, to move cars and trucks out of the wetlands area behind his house.
Two other properties with unregistered vehicles also received until July 8 to comply, including an old camping trailer owned by David P. Staples on Depot Street that was converted more than 30 years ago into a garden shed.
While board member John Boyle said the trailer should no longer be considered a vehicle, others on the panel disagreed. Boyle disclosed that he is a friend of Staples.
"It's definitely a trailer," Bartels said. "In my opinion, it's not a shed. It had wheels on it at one time. It seems to be in violation of the bylaw."
Police Chief Jeffrey Coe said the department had not received complaints about the trailer, but flagged it during its review of bylaw compliance, at the board's direction.
"It either has a plate on it or it doesn't have a plate," Coe said.
Staples indicated a willingness to comply, but wondered how he would extract the vehicle, since it has, over time, sunk into the ground.
"I don't know what I'm going to bring in to even get the frame out," he said. "It's collapsing at the back."
Larry Parnass can be reached at email@example.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
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