Hallgate Is Cleared of Its Junked Cars

Edgartown Officials Tour Subdivision, and Are Pleased After Year's Effort; Now, the Lot Next Door

By MANDY LOCKE

It was a moment Edgartown officials doubted would ever come.

Town leaders peered down the narrow dirt drive winding through Hallgate Wednesday morning, and for the first time in more than three years, saw only shards of glass where mounds of junk cars once rusted.

"I'm a little surprised. Finally, a success story," said selectman Margaret Serpa as she walked past several trash barrels - all that remains in the year-long cleanup effort by the Benjamin Hall Sr. family, owners of the 32-lot, undeveloped subdivision.

This long-awaited cleanup of the illegal junkyard is the last chapter in a saga that led volunteer firefighters to a dangerous brush fire last August, cost taxpayers more than $8,000 in legal fees and even brought investigations by the state police into the town's involvement in the dumping ground.

"I can't believe it's finally clear. It took the courts to do it. [The Halls] could have faced criminal action. That's why it finally got done," said Fred B. Morgan, retired town selectman who helped monitor countless failed cleanup efforts throughout the last two years.

The final push came as the Hon. Charles T. Spurlock, an associate justice in the state superior court, threatened to levy $500 daily fines, starting last Friday, if the mess remained any longer. Town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport and Benjamin Hall Jr. are scheduled to appear before Judge Spurlock again next week in Boston for a hearing on the Halls' violation of the judge's 30-day cleanup order issued May 5. Mr. Rappaport said it's unclear whether they will keep that appointment.

"It wasn't easy. Everyone that helped clean this up had other jobs. Judge Spurlock doesn't understand that. He doesn't live here. It's hard to get things done on this Island," said son Brian Hall, leaning out the window of his van Wednesday morning, driving into Hallgate for a final load of debris. In April, when the Halls removed nearly 100 of the 175 vehicles littering the site, the family had already spent more than $10,000 in the clean-up effort. Steamship Authority fees alone for each tractor trailer load of junkers cost $250. Hourly rates to load the battered automobiles with a front-end loader exceeded $80.

This week, rake marks across the sandy earth of Hallgate were still fresh. An air filter, a Dippin Donuts coffee cup, wooden slats from a collapsed camper, a dilapidated dog house and a truck bedliner filled with trash lingered at the foot of a BFI roll-off bin. Only a thin layer of blackened sand covered the ground where a heap of 14 junkers burned last August - creating an obstacle course for firemen and trucks trying to reach the blaze a mile deep in the property.

Brian Hall planned to have the last of the debris gone by day's end Wednesday.

"The site looks relatively clean. It's pretty disrupted right now, but nothing stands out as warranting further attention," said Matthew Poole, the town's health agent.

"The key, at this point, is for the Halls to secure the property and prevent this from recurring," said Mr. Poole, who walked the length of Hallgate and an adjoining Hall subdivision known as Kingswood earlier that day to ensure that the entire 60-acre property was free of junk cars.

Keeping Hallgate clear of abandoned vehicles has already proven a bit of a challenge. A battle of property boundaries continues in this Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road neighborhood. Brian Hall told officials during Wednesday's tour that dead cars from abutter Patrick Kelly's automotive repair shop continue to slip onto the Hall's property. Mr. Kelly admitted last year to charging $200 each for taking dead vehicles, which he then stored and staged on the Halls' property. Mr. Kelly's small repair shop is next on the town's cleanup list.

"Enforcement action will now be commenced against Patrick Kelly. First with letters, then, if necessary, with court proceedings. There is a sitting of superior court Oct. 5. Unless an appropriate and meaningful cleanup effort occurs before then, I expect to be in front of the judge this sitting of superior court," said Mr. Rappaport.

Mr. Kelly's special permit to operate Edgartown Auto in a residential zone allows only 15 vehicles stored on the property at a time. More than 50 cars appeared to be on the premises this week.

The Halls argue Mr. Kelly never had permission, nor did the town, to stage car disposal on their vacant land.

In fact, the town's zoning inspector did order the removal of at least a dozen automobiles to the property in the spring of 2002, hauled away from private properties in Edgartown, the owners of which zoning inspector Lenny Jason said couldn't afford disposal fees. Edgartown police even found Mr. Jason's own Isuzu Trooper in Hallgate last year. A state police investigation into the town's involvement, however, uncovered no criminal charges.

Edgartown officials are relieved to finally have the property rid of the mess - marveling that the town did not, inevitably, have to take control of the site.

"For the town to get rid of this car dump is a major accomplishment. It should never have happened, but we have got to find some way to dispose of abandoned vehicles on this Island," Mr. Morgan said.