The City of Wrangell wants to clean up unsightly junk vehicles in town.  The citation laws are already on the books, but enforcement hasn’t gone far. Now, the city plans to increase enforcement one step at a time.

I met with Wrangell’s Harbor Master, Greg Meissner. We’re driving around Shoemaker Bay and Heritage Harbor checking for abandoned cars sitting in the harbors’ parking lots. Meissner points out a dingy sedan he’s seen many times before.

“Here we are looking at a vehicle, right front tire’s flat. If you look at the registration, it’s a year out of registration,” Meissner says. “One, it’s on public property without being registered, two, it’s got a flat tire. How long is that going to be there? That’s one that’s been here too long.”

These public parking lots are not for storing cars, and they certainly aren’t for storing junk.

“If you look out your window to the right, here’s another little van with two flat tires, door jammed. That little sticker says 2015 on it.  Almost three years out of being registered,” Meissner says.

When someone abandons a vehicle at the harbor, the junk is out of sight, out of mind. It also doesn’t take the owner the prep work or fees to properly dispose of the car at the city’s solid waste facility.

But Meissner, the police, and the city are cracking down on this dumping. The rules are already on the books; it’s just about enforcing them.

“Wrangell is a lenient town in general,” Meissner says. “We try to give you the benefit of the doubt. And you can see when you get too lenient things don’t get taken care of.”

Meissner’s team won’t be so lenient. They are compiling a list of vehicles that need to get off the lots. With that list, the police will notify the owners to get their car out or expect the city to get rid of it, potentially at the owner’s expense.

This is one step the city is taking to further its larger goal of getting rid of all junk metal on the island, on public and private lands.

The assembly says it wants to see a junk free, more beautiful city. Also, Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen says the city is more conscious of what can happen when junk accumulates unchecked.

“That’s because of what is called the old Byford Junkyard,” Von Bargen says.

Wrangell residents dumped their cars at the privately owned junkyard for decades. Car batteries and other waste leaked into the ground. The deceased owners left the city with a serious hazard.

“What we ended up with was tens of thousands of cubic yards of material that was lead-contaminated that had to be treated,” Von bargen says. “That is now costing millions and millions of dollars to take care of.”

She says the city wants to focus on cleaning up junk on public lands before addressing junk on private property.

“We want to make sure we’re taking care of matters in our own house before we’re going out in the community and asking them to clean up as well.”

Von Bargen says the city will start citing citizens for junk on their own lots come this spring. The city hopes residents will take advantage of this grace period to dispose of personal junk before the law gets involved.

“This is not meant to be a negative, it’s not meant to put people in a difficult position,” Von Bargen says. “What we’re hoping to do is set an example here in Wrangell for what community pride can be and cleaning up our town. So the built environment is as much of a gem as the natural environment around us.”

Public Works Director Amber Al-Haddad says the city is bringing in Channel Construction to pick up scrap metal from the solid waste facility. Last month, public works waived the fee for dumping a vehicle.  Al-Haddad says the company will come back for pick up in December and January.

Back at the harbor lots, Meissner is counting the suspect cars we see that day.

“There’s three rigs right there. So, so far we’re at five vehicles in two parking lots,” Meissner says. “And it’s obvious you can see there’s a lot of parking lot left. But that’s not the point it’s for active vehicles coming and going, utilizing the harbor.”