Health district hauls away record number of junk vehicles

By 
Katherine Sears
Reporter
Tuesday, February 16, 2021
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Mike Jensen gives a thumbs-up to the new tow truck acquired by the Central Montana Health District and the record-breaking seven months of hauling away junk vehicles through the DEQ junk vehicle program. Jensen uses the truck to haul away vehicles across eight counties.
Photo courtesy of Central Montana Health District

When the Central Montana Health District isn’t busy scheduling COVID clinics or answering the phone, which rings off the hook some days, they might be scheduling pick-ups for junk vehicles through the Montana DEQ motor vehicle disposal and recycling program. Though this is a slow time of year for the program, since July the health district has hauled off a record number of junk vehicles from the surrounding eight counties.
“This year I think, especially with COVID and people being home, they’re starting to clean up their properties,” said Staci Plante, who manages the office at the health district. “I think that’s why we’ve had an increase.”
Over the past seven months, 30 junk vehicles were picked up for recycling through the program, compared to 20 throughout the whole 2019-2020 fiscal year. Since 2015, the district has averaged about 19 junk vehicles per year.
The purpose of the program is to control junked or abandoned vehicles from being scattered throughout the state, preventing contamination and beautifying communities. It is funded through fees assessed from vehicle registrations. The Central Montana Health District oversees the program for Fergus, Musselshell, Judith Basin, Petroleum, Meagher, Wheatland, Golden Valley and Garfield counties.
Anyone can utilize the program free of charge if a vehicle meets certain requirements.
“What a junk vehicle is is very specific,” said Plante. “The vehicle must meet three criteria to be considered junk.”
The vehicle must not be registered, it cannot be in running condition and it must be dismantled or in complete ruin to qualify for the program.

“Say, there’s no battery in the vehicle and we can put one in and it starts up – that doesn’t qualify as a junk vehicle.”
Those who want to voluntarily surrender a junk vehicle can call the health district to remove it. The owner must then sign a release form before the health district will schedule pick up.
“Even if the vehicle is on property that’s not the vehicle’s owner’s, they have to do due diligence and contact the vehicle owner,” said Plante. “Then we give them 30 days to come get the vehicle.”
Although they prefer to have a title for disposal, it is not required. Plante also reminds residents the health district cannot just take a vehicle from someone’s property without a release form.
“We don’t just go take people’s vehicles,” said Plante. “If someone files a complaint, I can write a letter and ask them to remove it, but that’s all I can do to enforce it. Then the City, County or DEQ would have to step in and enforce it.”
If Plante receives a complaint about a junk vehicle visible from a public roadway, the owner is asked to shield the vehicle from public view in some fashion.
“If they want to keep it, they can buy a car cover, not a tarp, and cover it,” Plante added.
At pick up time, owners should have the vehicle free of trash or other items that may be inside.
“It’s important to not have trash in the vehicle,” said Plante. “Car parts are fine if they have some extras they throw in the back.”
Plante also reminds residents the health district does not pay anyone for scrap metal and the program is strictly for cars and trucks.
The health district recently purchased a new tow truck for the program. After pick up, vehicles are hauled to the graveyard at the Lewistown Airport. When the vehicle count reaches 200, DEQ will haul them away most often to Pacific in Billings for shredding and recycling into metal for new parts.
There are currently 147 vehicles in the graveyard and Plante said program awareness continues to rise.
“A lot of people want to clean up Lewistown, and we do, too.”

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