Junkyard opens 'under the radar'

WORTHINGTON -- The discovery of a salvage yard operating north of Worthington brought Jorge Cardenas before the Nobles County Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday night.

WORTHINGTON -- The discovery of a salvage yard operating north of Worthington brought Jorge Cardenas before the Nobles County Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday night.

Cardenas failed to apply for a conditional use permit to operate the salvage yard, which has amassed nearly 70 junked vehicles and about as many un-rimmed tires on a 7.2-acre farm site at 24400 Read Ave. The yard brings with it concern over ground contamination, as several of the vehicles still contain fluids such as gasoline, oil, antifreeze, batteries and mercury switches.

"I want to have a space where I can take cars apart for spare parts and sell whatever is left over for scraps," said Cardenas through the aid of an interpreter. He went before the Planning and Zoning Commission seeking a conditional use permit to operate the salvage yard, which is located on a dead-end road that abuts Interstate 90, just west of Minnesota 60.

With too many questions left unanswered, however, the commission voted to table discussion and bring the issue back for the March 28 meeting. In the meantime, they told Cardenas he was not allowed to store any more vehicles on the site.

"Right now, we're really in an after-the-fact situation," said commission member Mike Hoeft.


Considerable discussion was conducted during the meeting about the salvage yard, and neighboring land owners were given the opportunity to ask questions and submit comments on the conditional use permit request.

Leonard Ruesch, who owns farm land surrounding Cardenas, asked the commission if a fence would be required around the salvage yard. He also said placing fencing between the Cardenas property and his farm ground would not be necessary.

"Federal and state law states that along a highway, you would need to shield the yard," said Wayne Smith, Nobles County Environmental Services director, adding that fencing would be required along the sides of the salvage yard that are visible from Interstate 90.

Another neighboring landowner, Larry Potter, voiced opposition to the salvage yard being allowed at that site. In addition to stating his own concerns, Potter read a letter from John Paulson, another neighbor, who was unable to attend the meeting.

"Both John and I feel we have a valuable piece of property there (east of the Cardenas property)," Potter said. "A salvage yard would do nothing but bring those values down. As John puts it, this is a gateway to our town."

Paulson owns an 80-acre parcel north and east of the Cardenas property -- land he considers "very favorable" for industrial development.

"No business wants to see a junkyard in their backyard," Paulson wrote in his letter to the commission.

In addition to the public testimony, Smith said he received on call from a resident living along 27th Street who was concerned about the operation of a business on a gravel road and the dust that would be created from increased traffic.


Hoeft also reported receiving several comments on the salvage yard, primarily with regard to aesthetics and compliance.

"It is a major corridor into the city and should be a concern for us," Hoeft said.

The salvage yard is located within the strategic planning corridor identified by the Joint Planning and Zoning committee.

Planning and zoning member and Nobles County Commissioner Norm Gallagher said he does not want to see Cardenas continue operating the yard on the site.

"I could not believe how a mess like this could get in under the radar of the city and the county," Gallagher said in the meeting. "To have 70 cars in the backyard essentially, there could already be contamination.

"Also, it falls right in the middle of the new planning and zoning area," he continued. "I just can't see doing that where it is when we've got all kinds of space out in the country. Take a look at the spot south of town on Highway 59-60 and see if that's what you want north of town."

Cardenas said he was willing to work on compliance issues. Most, if not all, of the vehicles he has stored on site came from Spanish-speaking customers. Some of the vehicles don't run, and in other cases, it was either too expensive for the owner to make necessary repairs or renew expired license tabs.

Among concerns raised by the commission were the absence of drip pans under vehicles stored at the site, the lack of fluid-absorbing chemicals and potential issues with the pile of unrimmed tires. Smith said the tires are not as much of a concern in the winter, but during the summer months they can become prime mosquito breeding areas.


Smith told commissioners an environmental officer would meet with Cardenas at the salvage yard site today to look for any ground contamination and to assess the situation.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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