LYNN — The city is taking further legal action against a Western Avenue auto junkyard, which, rather than complying with orders to cease operations and complete an environmental cleanup of the site, has been burying potentially hazardous materials on-site near the Saugus River.
Vincent Phelan, city attorney, said the city will be filing a contempt motion in Essex Superior Court against Caps Auto Wrecking Corp. and Scrap Metals Corp., which will be added to its earlier filing against the junkyard.
In May, the city filed an injunction against Caps Auto Wrecking, which prevented them from operating any business at their 1069-1069R Western Ave. site until all federal, state and local licenses are granted.
The City Council Licensing Committee denied a special permit for a vehicle storage facility on the site in May following complaints of illegal operations at all hours.
“It’s outrageous,” said City Councilor Peter Capano, who represents the ward where the site is located. “We’ve had a cease and desist order for them for a long, long time and they continue to operate. Apparently, they’re burying things in there and we don’t know what’s in there … As a councilor, this is the most outrageous situation I’ve ever had to deal with. They shouldn’t be here. They should be gone.”
Phelan said there was an agreement with Caps Auto Wrecking, which is owned by Mark Jirtian, who lives out of state, which allowed them to clean up the property, but they had to follow state, local and federal laws for removing hazardous or toxic materials.
“It’s very clear,” Phelan said. “The evidence is startling that they just buried gas, oil (and) crushed fiberglass so we’ll be going to court to seek enjoining them from doing them and ordering them to clean it up pursuant to a hazardous waste expert.”
Phelan said there’s police reports that indicate gasoline oil and antifreeze have been poured out in great quantities all over the place, which he would assume is going into the Saugus River. He said the damage could be irreparable once oil starts getting put in the soil.
City Councilor Jay Walsh said complaints about the lot go back to 2013. He said Caps has no permits to do any work on the site at all and was only supposed to be cleaning up the site. He got a phone call on Monday that there was material being buried on the site, with things busted up and crushed.
Walsh said he went over to the site and watched a man on a machine taking rubbish, oil drums, tires and unknown materials and dumping them on to the back section of the property. He called the city attorneys and Lynn police, who responded. After looking around, they found many buried materials.
In addition, he said Caps tenants have been doing repair work and cutting up vehicles on the site when they were told not to. He said there shouldn’t be anybody on the site.
“They were just taking the stuff on the property, crushing and burying it underground that they were supposed to be removing from the site,” Walsh said. “The concern I have is with any of the drums or questionable material that was buried in the ground, whether that poses a health risk and we’re looking to work with other agencies, both state and federal to identify if there is a risk to the public.”
Phelan said people associated with Caps Auto Wrecking bury the materials at night when they think no one is watching. On Wednesday, the Lynn Fire Department will be going down to the site to assess whether there’s any danger of any of the buried materials spontaneously combusting in the heat.
He said there’s been complaints at 3 a.m. to police and councilors from neighbors about work that was going on at all hours of the night. Under the injunction, a judge ordered that a concrete jersey barrier be put in place so people couldn’t come in and work at night, but people operating out of Caps circumvented that order by moving the barrier and were instead parking a car in front, which people could use to go into the site.
In addition to legal action from the city, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) filed suit against Caps in 2015 alleging the company was discharging stormwater into the Saugus River.
Under an agreement with CLF reached in January, Caps agreed to refrain from conducting business and to clear all cars, parts and other inventory from the site. A CLF spokesperson said on Tuesday that their team is definitely monitoring what’s happening over at the site and has been in contact with the city’s law department.
Peter Calabrese, the attorney for Caps and its owner, Jirtian, could not be reached for comment, but argued before the Licensing Committee in May that the company needed until July to remove existing tenants and complete an environmental cleanup of the 9,500-square-foot lot.
City attorney James Lamanna said the tenants had until July 5 to be out of the property, which has not happened. An inspection on Monday revealed people still working on automobiles.
Within the past week, Lamanna said people were observed on the property using blow torches to take apart vehicles at nighttime, which raises concerns about flammables on site, which are not being properly stored or inspected because there are no licenses.
In addition, he said a truck stop rental was also being run at Caps, with tractor trailers parked overnight, which was a source of a lot of frustration for neighbors. He said there was no permission from the City Council to have a truck stop or parking lot on site.
But Phelan said the owner of the property claims these are illegal tenants that are squatting there. Ultimately, though, he said the owner of the property still has legal responsibility.
Lamanna said the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and Environmental Police will determine if there will be criminal penalties or jail time for people involved for deliberate environmental contamination of the waterway. To further dispose of materials, he said the wetlands were cleared to bury debris in the area.
“It’s criminal,” said Capano. “Someone has to take an action. We feel like we’ve done everything we can with checking the site every chance we get. They’re not supposed to be there. They shouldn’t have been there in the first place and they shouldn’t be there now. Now (that the) state is involved, hopefully we can get them out of there and get it cleaned up.
“It seems that they’re only going to be stopped if they’re forcibly removed. They have no respect for the city at all.”