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Metal yard cited by DEP before fire
WEST PARIS — An ongoing dispute between a West Paris scrapyard and a neighbor has spawned a lawsuit and a series of DEP citations against the company.
"I'm just trying to get him to clean up his act over there," neighbor Shirley Newbert said about Ernie Yap, the owner of West Paris Metal Recycling (WPMR) on Maple Street.
"He's always blocking the road over there," said Newbert. "It's an eyesore."
For his part, Yap says that Newbert is using complaints to the DEP as a way to hurt him, after she failed to win money from him in a lawsuit.
"They said they wanted a $135,000 settlement," he said.
Yap says that the lawsuit, which was eventually dropped, sought to prevent commercial traffic associated with his business from using the public road.
Yap says that responding to the legal charges has cost him money.
"It cost me quite a few thousand dollars to answer," said Yap. "Being right in this country is very expensive."
The lawsuit is dropped, but Yap says that he has now become the subject of a series of DEP citations.
Newbert says that she has reported various violations to the state and the town, and that she sees the violations as a public safety issue.
"I'm worried about the contaminants," said Newbert. "It's crazy what he's getting away with."
Just weeks before four cars were involved in a fire at West Paris Metal Recycling (WPMR), the company was cited for pouring gasoline onto the upholstery of vehicles before they were sold for scrap.
Now, DEP officials say that scrapyard owner Ernie Yap is moving toward compliance, and has resolved some, but not all, of the issues that were of concern.
"The hazardous waste problem is pretty much resolved," said Randy McMullin, a DEP official.
On July 12, the DEP's waste management bureau cited the scrapyard for three violations.
"West Paris Metal admitted to disposing of ignitable hazardous waste gasoline by pouring it onto vehicle upholstery prior to selling the vehicles for scrap," reads the notice, which was issued by Timothy Wright, a hazardous materials specialist with the department.
Wright said that the notice, which was sent by certified mail, had been signed for on July 13.
The notice stated that the "unlicensed disposal and evaporation of hazardous waste" must be stopped "immediately," and gave the company 30 days to document compliance.
"He needs to follow the rules the same as anybody else," said Wright.
Two weeks after the letter was signed for, on July 27, firefighters from three towns responded to a fire at WPMR. Employees on the site told fire personnel that, while using a propane torch to dismantle vehicles for scrap, sparks from the torch had ignited the vehicles.
Paris Fire Chief Brad Frost, who was one of the respondents to the fire, said that he was unaware of the gasoline violations at the time of the incident, and that he couldn't say whether gasoline had played a role in the fire.
"By the time we got there, all four vehicles were involved," said Frost.
McMullin says that he doesn't think that the gasoline violations were related to the fire.
"I don't think so," he said. "I don't think he's pouring gasoline on upholstery anymore."
Yap says that he stopped the practice long ago.
"It stopped two years ago when it was first cited," he said.
The fire, he says, was due to an employee setting the propane torch down when he was called away to do another job.
"About an hour and a half later, somebody said 'Hey, is something burning?' and it was the cars," said Yap.
Shane Poland, code enforcement officer (CEO) for West Paris, says that he has been called out to WPMR to respond to complaints, but that he hasn't found anything out of the ordinary.
He said that it's difficult to interpret exactly how to apply standards to the location.
"It's a junkyard; it's not a restaurant," said Poland. "I guess it's a hard business to scrutinize."
Poland, McMullin, and Wright both said that they had found Yap to be cooperative during their visits.
"He's made a lot of progress," said McMullin. "They're working with him. They've done a lot, but he has a long way to go."
The waste management division cited WPMR for three violations, two of which were tied to the disposal of gasoline by pouring it onto vehicle upholstery. The third found that the company had failed to separate out universal waste lamps and put them into proper containers.
Wright said that he had observed six such lamps during a May 3 visit, but that during a June 21 visit, five of the six had been buried by additional scrap.
Yap described the incident as a "fluke" that had happened after someone failed to pick up the lamps as promised.
In October of 2010, a report on a site inspection by the DEP's solid waste management unit documented six other areas of concern. It cited one illegal practice of stacking vehicles on top of each other without first removing the fluids, such as transmission fluid and engine oil, from those vehicles.
Other problems included open burning of inappropriate material, failure to properly handle freon-containing appliances, failure to cover vehicle parts that are prone to leaking, and not keeping ditches free and clear of material.
Yap says that he has addressed all concerns that have been raised with him, the most recent being the purchase of a 55-gallon drum to store hazardous materials.
"Every time they come around, they see something, and I take care of it," he said. "You always have something."
According to Yap, the DEP has said that his facility is cleaner than most.
"If I'm polluting the ground, they would have closed me down with the snap of a finger," he said.
"A DEP inspector said 'Your yard is clean. If we had to close you down, we'd have to close down 90 percent of the yards in Maine'," continued Yap.
Wright says that he expects Yap to write a letter documenting the steps he has taken to prevent further violations.