Chappy legacy of junk cars take last ride
Some Chappy "junkers" loaded by Tom Rogers (in the loader at right). Photo by Peter Hefler
For the last 30-plus years, Chappaquiddick residents have turned to Gerald Jeffers, owner of the Chappy Service Station, to take their old vehicles off their hands. In the last few weeks, Mr. Jeffers has found someone to take these donations off his.
In a partnership with Dick Diamond, former owner of Dick's Auto and Truck Repair, and Tom Rogers and his son Thomas F. Rogers, Mr. Jeffers has launched an ambitious clean-up effort to remove most of the estimated 250-plus junk vehicles on his property off Chappaquiddick Road by early next year. Although some are visible around the front of the Chappy Service Station, most of them dot the acreage out of view behind the shop.
"I've been wanting to do this for a long time," said a smiling Mr. Jeffers on Tuesday morning, as he watched Mr. Rogers use a front-end loader to lift the last car that would top off another load Mr. Diamond would haul off-Island that night.
The clean-up campaign came together at the suggestion and with the availability of Mr. Diamond. He was operating his own auto and truck repair shop on Chappaquiddick up until last October when he underwent quintuple bypass surgery. Recovering from his surgery and seeking a new occupation, Mr. Diamond and his wife Judy bought a $62,000 Chevy 6.5 Duramax diesel truck and $15,000 flatbed trailer last March, and left Chappaquiddick to try hauling freight from Maine to Florida.
They found it boring and low-paying, and after several months, they decided to head back to Chappaquiddick. Mr. Diamond said he and Mr. Jeffers had talked before about getting the junked cars cleaned up, and he decided now was the time to do it using his new truck and trailer.
Over the last couple of weeks, he and Mr. Jeffers came up with a system. Mr. Jeffers tows the vehicles out to the front of the property, and then Mr. Rogers or his son Thomas uses a front-end loader to crush and then stack them onto Mr. Diamond's trailer.
Mr. Diamond said he already has removed about 50 of the junk vehicles, hauling six crushed cars at a time off Chappy to a recycling center in Middleboro where he receives $100 a ton for the scrap metal.
In order to make the enterprise worth his while financially, Mr. Diamond said he must make three trips a week. It costs him $467 round trip on the ferry. Mr. Rogers and his son are paid a small fee for their time and fuel to run the front-end loader.
Mr. Jeffers had about 100 cars removed a few years ago as a start on this often postponed project. That was thanks to Trip Barnes of Barnes Moving and Storage in Vineyard Haven.
While the Chappaquiddick Island Association is happy to see the junked vehicles go, president Terry Forde said the next question is, "What's going to happen to the land after these vehicles go?"
When asked whether he has any plans for the cleaned-up property, Mr. Jeffers answered that it would be nice to have a restaurant there. Then he laughingly said in protest, "I'm too old to be starting something new like that." He did admit he has had fun joking with people that he is going to put a casino there.
Edgartown attorney Ronald Monterosso, who co-owns several parcels of Chappaquiddick property with Mr. Jeffers, said he has no knowledge of or any hand in plans for the cleaned-up property. "Not that I think it's any big secret, but I just don't know," he said.
Driven to excess
The burgeoning vehicle junkyard happened a few cars at a time since he opened the Chappy Service Station in 1971, Mr. Jeffers said. Not only did Chappy residents add to the numbers, but also residents from Edgartown and the other Island towns as well, who turned to Mr. Jeffers for a final resting place for their terminal transport when other junkyards turned them away.
Some vehicles ended up on Mr. Jeffers's property through abandonment or default, he said, dumped without his knowledge or never reclaimed by owners who left them for repairs.
Yet the growing graveyard of rusted remains of vehicles that date back to 1946 seemed to remain under the radar for many Edgartown officials. Mr. Jeffers said no Edgartown officials have bothered him about the vehicle junkyard, which he thought was probably in deference to him helping out so many people in the town by taking their old junk cars.
"It was there long before I got here," said Lenny Jason, Edgartown zoning and building inspector. Although there is no zoning for a junkyard per se where Mr. Jeffers's property is located, Mr. Jason pointed out, "He's tried to clean it up through the years," and added that it was not an issue as far as he was concerned.
By comparison, zoning bylaws in all three down-Island towns prohibit the storage of more than one unregistered car on private property. Junk cars also must be kept off the front yard. Additional unregistered vehicles can be kept on a property if stored in a garage.
Edgartown town administrator Pamela Dolby said she was not aware of any complaints about Mr. Jeffers's property.
Mr. Forde said in the 10 years he has lived on Chappaquiddick, some residents had voiced concerns about possible groundwater pollution from the junked vehicles on the property, which is on the edge of wetlands.
Although the vehicle junkyard issue predated the employment of Matt Poole, Edgartown health agent, he said he was told that Edgartown officials inspected the property about 10 years ago and agreed that Mr. Jeffers was storing the vehicles properly.
"The Chappaquiddick Island Association has funded tens of thousands of dollars of water testing," Mr. Poole said. "They have been looking around at that part of the island in the last few years, and have gone out there looking for 'smoking guns,' and so far have not turned up much of anything."
Unless the junkyard was proven to be a source of contamination that affected health, the board of health would not be involved in any kind of permitting process, Mr. Poole said.
While Mr. Forde said the island association is glad to see the cars go, he also expressed sympathy for Mr. Jeffers having to bear the expense of the cleanup. In an upcoming association board meeting, Mr. Forde said they will be discussing a motion made by board member Richard S. Knight, Jr., who is Mr. Jeffers's neighbor, to contribute association money towards the vehicle removal efforts.
The unwillingness of Chappaquiddick residents to call attention to a sprawling vehicle junkyard on a part of the Vineyard where environmental issues often define battle lines against development stands in contrast to two former vehicle dumps once allowed to grow on private property.
For years, dead and dying vehicles ended up on a 60-acre property owned by the Benjamin Hall Family known as Hallgate and Kingswood located off the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven. Road. Eventually approximately 200 vehicles littered the property.
The Hall family maintained that despite their best efforts to prevent it people were illegally dumping automobiles on their property. The town wanted the Hall family to clean the property up.
"Mr. Hall's situation was completely different," said Mr. Jason. "He took a vacant lot and created a junkyard. It's different for Mr. Jeffers. He's not running a junkyard. He has some junk cars and is trying to get rid of them. He does not need a permit."
Patrick Kelly, owner of Edgartown Auto, which is located adjacent to the Hall family's property, also had allowed autos to accumulate on his property and used the Hall land as a storage area. Mr. Kelly's special permit to operate his repair shop in a residential district allowed him to have only 15 cars on his property. At one point town officials counted almost 100 junk automobiles at the repair shop and on the adjacent property.
Following an exchange of letters and meetings that did not produce a cleanup, in 2003 the town took action against both owners in court that resulted in the removal of junk automobiles from both properties.