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Auto Recycler Facing "Environmental" Issues
by Jordan Madorsky

Will American cities that want more bookstores and coffee shops ever zone for auto recycling? Larry and Jay Brosten have reason to wonder. The brothers purchased Auto Parts City in Gurnee, Illinois back in 1984, an auto salvage business since the mid-1960s. In 2002, their 8-acre recycling facility drained and crushed more than 12,000 vehicles. But due to inadequate shelter, fluid drainage is done outdoors — regardless of weather. Their recent attempts to open a more modern facility have put them in the middle of a political firestorm.

In February 2002, they made a deposit on a 16-acre maintenance facility in Waukegan, Illinois, which was owned by a public utility. The former ComEd site is surrounded by forest preserve property with no residential areas anywhere close by. ComEd stored and maintained service vehicles and supplies for almost 30 years on the site. With a large existing building and an impervious indoor work surface, many Waukegan city officials agreed it would be ideal for the Auto Parts City move. Approximately 25 percent of the vehicles Auto Parts City handles come from the once thriving industrial city (population 91,000).

"All I've wanted to do was recycle vehicles using state-of-the-art methods. Waukegan is our biggest supplier of vehicles. The shredders in Chicago or Milwaukee are about 50 miles away. To recycle vehicles in an environmentally correct, cost-effective manner, you must drain all fluids and crush them for transport. That's a countywide issue. I want everyone to care enough to allow me to do this the right way." Brosten explained.

Official support for the site lasted until late summer 2002. At that time, a group formed calling themselves Concerned Citizens to Save the Waukegan Savanna. Within weeks, their protests were felt in the City Council chambers.

According to Brosten, particularly unfair was the criticism of the current Auto Parts City facility. "I was the one who brought up the issue of the site's shortcoming. Because it's considered a legal, non-conforming use by the Village of Gurnee, I have it in writing that I can't enlarge the structures or expand the operation. Yes, it's antiquated and there are a couple of spots that need to be remediated, but I could have sat and done nothing and continued to make money and no one would have said a word. We are the largest recycler of vehicles between Chicago and Milwaukee. We need a 21st century facility," Brosten said.

Brosten points to his other recently-sold facility as proof of his expertise. In 2000, the Brostens sold their Hy-Way Auto Parts to Ford Motor Company. It was one of only 33 yards bought by Ford and renamed Greenleaf. Hy-Way was opened in 1976, and after almost 25 years operating next to forest preserve property and with the Des Plaines River running directly behind it, Hy-Way passed its Phase II environmental study with flying colors when it was sold to Ford.

"Of course the Savanna People overlooked that. My father was in this business, and I've been in it my whole life. The NIMBYs (Not in My Back Yard) always ride the coattails of environmental groups," Brosten said. "We feel real environmentalists should care as much as we do that 12,000 vehicles are currently drained outdoors in the elements - but they don't."

Also not right, according to Brosten, is the Way the City of Waukegan is handling its vehicles now. After being forced to pull his Conditional Use Permit application, Brosten responded by refusing to recycle Waukegan's vehicles. Of the estimated 400 vehicles Brosten recycled from Waukegan, 100 are the result of code enforcement. Brosten has had several heated discussions with the city's lone towing contractor. Brosten said that the contractor is taking vehicles to a small lot in the neighboring city of North Chicago where a large loader is crushing just roofs of vehicles without draining fluids. The partially flattened vehicles are then stacked on a trailer with gas tanks still intact and sent to another facility near Chicago.

Despite the controversy, the Brosten brothers purchased the ComEd site on December 31, 2002. They are not insisting that the site become the new Auto Parts City, but they are hopeful that after the elections are over, discussions can be renewed regarding auto recycling in Lake County.

To date, the once vocal "Save the Waukegan Savanna" group has had no public comment on Waukegan's new, less ideal disposal method. Brosten claims that a couple of Savanna group organizers and local politicians used this issue, in part, to help them run for office.

"People have no understanding of the work involved turning finished goods into raw materials. And they don't understand that recycling must be done close to home. Everyone favors auto recycling, as long as it's done somewhere else," Brosten said.





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