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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 16, 2006

A defining moment

We’ve written reams on pollution problems at the site of the Northeastern Industrial Park in Guilderland Center, many of them left behind from when the land was used as an Army depot.

As our readers are by now well aware, the Black Creek, which was diverted by the Army to carry waste from the depot, flows into the Watervliet Reservoir, Guilderland’s major source of drinking water.

We’ve also written often about the planning and zoning boards in Guilderland which sometimes appear to favor the interests of the developers who come before them rather than interpreting the law strictly, to protect the interests of town residents.

So we were both surprised and pleased earlier this month when Guilderland’s zoning board issued a unanimous decision stymieing plans for storage of wrecked vehicles at the industrial park.

Insurance Auto Auctions wanted to store up to 1,850 vehicles at the same site that was used by a controversial mulching facility in 2003.

In its presentation to the board last month, IAA representatives showed a film clip that included footage of shrink-wrapping wrecked vehicles.

The auction company holds vehicles, purchases and transfers their titles from insurance companies, then sells them to the highest bidder. Some of the cars are in good shape, the board was told; they are held as evidence or are stolen cars recovered after an insurance pay-out.

The park is zoned as an industrial area, where junkyards are not allowed. IAA’s vice president, Michael Madden, claimed the company wouldn’t run a junkyard.

"What we do is far from anything done in a junkyard," he said. "We do not cannibalize vehicles. We do not part them out. We do not sell parts."

The zoning board went by the letter of the law.

Guilderland’s ordinance states, "A junkyard is a lot, land or structure, or part thereof, used for...the collecting, dismantling, storage, processing or salvaging of machinery or vehicles not in running condition or for the sale of parts thereof, operated as a business on site where an employee is in attendance."

The word "or" means that one term in a list of terms can be defining if it is applicable. So if IAA collects cars — even if it does not dismantle or process them — its operation would still be defined as a junkyard.

"Our interpretation is set forth by the zoning codes," said Peter Barber, the zoning board’s chairman.

The other voting board members agreed. We commend the board on its decision and consider it a defining moment.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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