Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Dec. 20, 1999

Decision tabled on area junkyard permit

By Gail Lipe

The courthouse board room filled with area residents as the McLeod County planning advisory commission faced several controversial issues Dec.8.

One issue involved a Volkswagon salvage/junk yard that has been operated by George Cermak on Highway 7, west of County Road 9.

Cermak's permit was recently pulled by McLeod County for having more vehicles than the permit allowed and not properly screening the property. He appeared in court in October over this issue.

McLeod County commissioner Ray Bayerl said the previous permit allowed for 10 cars. When the issue came up to the county, there were 300 cars on the 1- acre site.

The court ordered Cermak to reduce the number of vehicles to 50 by Nov. 12 and 10 by February.

Cermak was present with his attorney, Kyle Hegna, to request a conditional use permit (CUP) to continue operation of the salvage yard, which he has been operating for over 20 years, and increase the number of the cars allowed.

Larry Gasow, McLeod County zoning officer, said the issue needed to be treated as a new application.

The Winsted Township Board previously reviewed the site and recommended approval of the permit.

Hegna explained that Cermak ships parts nationally and internationally. He strips the cars and then eventually sends them to a crusher. There is no crushing on site.

He said he felt the previous problems were largely due to the screening process. A berm has been built, which will have trees planted on it, so the yard is completely screened and well maintained.

Hegna asked that the permit be issued requiring the vehicles remain below the screening.

Paul Lenzen, a previous Cermak employee, said he did not feel like Cermak has the ability to maintain the property.

There was discussion about Cermak's health problems and the fact that it contributed to the previous situation.

Cermak's son, Randy, said he helps out when he can. Cermak felt he could maintain the yard with his son's help.

Lenzen also brought up issues with car fluids. He said the fluids used to be dumped on the ground in the yard.

Commission member Roger Karstens asked if there is any environmental issues. He asked if an environmental study could be done since the permit was previously pulled.

Frank Bickman said he had some concerns about the waterway that goes through the property. He said he called the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), and it said silt samples could be sent in for testing. "It is easy to do," said Bickman.

Bruce Stacken, property owner on the east, said the entire property was not fenced or screened by a berm. He said he has not seen any leakage personally, but the person who leases the land saw some off-colored water in the low area next to Cermak's property. He talked to the MPCA, and it said the color could be caused by other things, like leaves decomposing.

Stacken also felt it was deceptive to state that cars are shipped to the crusher after they are stripped when there are cars on the property line that have not been moved since 1994.

Bayerl said he was concerned with Cermak saying he is in compliance now, but has not been in the past. "What assurances do we have that he will stay in compliance?"

Hegna said Cermak would have to run at a high level because of the situation. It also will be reviewed on an annual basis by the planning commission.

Other neighbors voiced their concerns about Cermak's ability to comply with a CUP, especially with his heart problems. "The man won't get any younger," said Debbie Fosdik.

A petition against approving a CUP, with 30 signatures from a one-mile radius to Cermak's property, was submitted to the commission.

Mike Lynch, landowner on the west, had proposed a four-lot subdivision on his property that has been put on hold for a study to be done on the zoning in the area. "Is his going to be put on hold, too?" he asked.

He also said Cermak had a permit, did not take care of it and now he wants to be rewarded with a permit for more cars. "He should prove he can handle the old permit first."

"Nobody can make a living on 10 cars anymore," said Cermak. "Can you make it on the same amount of money as you did 20 years ago?"

Robert Otto asked who would monitor the situation. He said he could start with five, then grow to 10, and by the time the county is involved, the operation is too big.

Alan Otto said Ed Homan failed miserably in monitoring the junk yards in the county. Maybe the new zoning officer, Gasow, can do a better job. The neighbors do not want to have to police it.

The planning commission decided to visit the property before making a decision, with Bayerl disagreeing with the decision.

In other business, the commission discussed doing a study for the land in Winsted Township around the intersection of Highway 7 and County Road 9. It decided to look at the Cermak property before deciding, but it is leaning towards doing an overall study, which would include working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Department of Natural Resources, the townships in the area, the neighbors and Lester Prairie.

"If a real study is to be done, I do not know if the county will go so far as putting a moratorium on the property," said Gasow. "That is what I would recommend to the commission to do it right. It would be a four-to six-month process."

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