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Auto Recycler Facing
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
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.