Health district hauls away record number of junk vehicles

When the Central Montana Health District isn’t busy planning COVID clinics or the answering machine that goes off the hook some days, they may be planning to pick up junk vehicles through the Montana DEQ Vehicle Disposal and Recycling Program . While this is a slow time of year for the program, the Health District has picked up a record number of junk vehicles from the surrounding eight counties since July.
“I think this year, especially when COVID and people are at home, they’ll start cleaning up their properties,” said Staci Plante, who runs the office in the health district. “I think that’s why we had an increase.”
In the past seven months, 30 scrap vehicles have been picked up as part of the recycling program, compared to 20 in the full fiscal year 2019-2020. As of 2015, the district has an average of 19 junk vehicles per year.
The program aims to prevent the spread of junk or abandoned vehicles across the state, prevent contamination, and beautify communities. It is financed by fees that are determined 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 use 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 garbage.”
The vehicle must not be registered, it must not be in running order, and it must be disassembled or completely ruined to qualify for the program.

“Let’s say there is no battery in the vehicle and we can put one in and it starts – this is not a junk vehicle.”
Those who want to volunteer a junk vehicle can call the health district to have it removed. The owner must then sign a clearance form before the health district schedules the pickup.
“Even if the vehicle is on a property that does not belong to the vehicle owner, they have to take the necessary care and contact the vehicle owner,” said Plante. “Then we give them 30 days to collect the vehicle.”
Although they prefer to have a title available, it is not required. Plante also reminds residents that the Health District cannot simply take a vehicle from someone’s property without a clearance form.
“We don’t just drive people’s vehicles,” said Plante. “If someone makes a complaint, I can write a letter asking them to remove it, but that’s all I can do to enforce it. Then the city, the district or the DEQ would have to intervene and enforce this. “
When Plante receives a complaint about a junk vehicle that is visible from a public road, the owner is asked to do some way to protect the vehicle from the public.
“If they want to keep it, they can buy a car cover, not a tarpaulin, and cover it,” added Plante.
Upon collection, owners should keep the vehicle free of any trash or other items that may be inside.
“It is important not to have any garbage in the vehicle,” said Plante. “Auto parts are fine when they have some extras to throw in the back.”
Plante also reminds residents that the Health District does not pay anyone for scrap metal and the program applies to cars and trucks only.
The health district recently purchased a new tow truck for the program. Once picked up, the vehicles will be taken to the Lewistown Airport cemetery. When the number of vehicles reaches 200, DEQ will most often bring them to Billings in Pacific to be crushed and recycled into metal for new parts.
There are currently 147 vehicles in the cemetery, and Plante said program awareness continues to rise.
“Lots of people want to clean up Lewistown, and so do we.”

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