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Wednesday, 07 December 2005 00:00

Blaylock tries to salvage business after Haywood court cracks down on junkyard ordinance

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When Ricky Stokely pulled out of Denver Blaylock’s junkyard in Cruso last Friday afternoon towing a junk green Saturn, he didn’t realize just how down to the wire things were.

Stokely had to haul the junked car back to his house in White Oak — in the rural reaches of the county a good hour away — return the rented trailer used to haul the junk car, and pick up his wife from her shift at Time Out Market convenience store in Jonathan Creek, all the while with their baby in tow. That would leave just a couple hours sleep before returning to the same convenience store to work the graveyard shift.

“That’s why they call it the graveyard shift. It’ll put you in the graveyard,” Stokely said.

What Stokely didn’t realize was that he escaped with that green Saturn in the knick of time. A few days later, and Blaylock’s junkyard would have been officially shut down for failure to comply with the county’s junkyard ordinance.

After seven years of alternately coaxing and threatening Blaylock to fence and screen his sprawling junkyard along U.S. 276 as required by county law, Haywood County commissioners — armed with a court order — decided this week to shut down the junkyard until it complies with the ordinance.

Five years ago, the county hired a deputy solely to hound junkyard owners into complying with the ordinance. Blaylock has outlasted four junkyard deputies — and their 64 phone calls, visits and attempts at contact that have been recorded since then.

Fed up with years of prodding, the county armed itself with a court order in October allowing it to finish building fences and plant evergreen trees around the junkyard and send the bill to Blaylock. The tab came to about $25,000. If Blaylock doesn’t pay, the county can auction off his property to recoup the costs.

Blaylock, 59, claims he can’t afford health insurance, let alone a $25,000 bill, and says he’ll just throw in the grease rag.

Meanwhile, for just $150 and just in the knick of time, Stokely will soon have his family back up to two-car status. He had wrecked his wife’s green Saturn. But Stokely, who is already teaching his 2-year-old to climb under cars with him, simply needed another green wrecked Saturn and he could likely cobble together a whole car out of the parts. Stokely asked Blaylock to be on the lookout for a one, which eventually surfaced.

Stokely has been living with vehicles built from parts salvaged at junkyards — mostly Blaylock’s junkyard — his whole life. He can build a car for $1,000 in scraps that once running would cost $3,000 at a used car lot. Lifting the hood to get his truck started is a small price to pay for that kind of bargain. More than a hobby, working on cars is a way of life.

“If Denver goes out of business, I don’t know what some of us poor people will do,” Stokely said.

Loppers

Just when the county commissioners were ready to dust their hands of Blaylock’s junkyard — satisfied that after seven years it was finally properly fenced and screened with vegetation — they were yanked back to square one. Less than 48 hours after the final tree was planted and all that was left was to collect payment from Blaylock, someone cut down a row of the arborvitaes saplings in the middle of the night. The move frustrated commissioners and put Blaylock’s junkyard back in violation.

“Certainly we have more important things to do in this county than plant trees around someone else’s property that won’t comply with the law and do what they are supposed to do,” said Commissioner Larry Ammons.

Nonetheless, Ammons suggested the county replant the trees and add it to Blaylock’s bill.

“Once the trees were added to the property, they belonged to Mr. Blaylock,” Ammons said during a discussion at the commissioners meeting Monday (Dec. 5). “He is now out of compliance. Whoever cut the trees down did a disservice to us all and I hope we find out who cut them down.”

The Haywood County Sheriff’s office is investigating the tree sabotage, but it is unlikely the tree vandal will be caught. Any of the junkyard’s numerous supporters could have pulled off the defiant move. In addition to chopping down the trees, fans staged a protest at the junkyard objecting to the county’s interference. Blaylock and his girlfriend were at a car show in Florida when both the protest and tree vandalism occurred.

At the county board meeting, Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick asked Blaylock if he thought someone would cut down the trees again.

“Probably would do it,” Blaylock answered.

“Even if people knew at this point it is harming you?” Kirkpatrick asked.

“I can’t control what other people do around there,” Blaylock said.

Marshall Tomkins, a neighbor who supports Blaylock, said the trees that were cut down were singled out because they bordered a row of baby white pines Blaylock planted.

“The whole thing was wrong in my opinion, but they went out there and planted trees in front of the ones he already planted,” Tompkin said.

Blaylock’s white pines were only about six inches tall at the time of planting. They were so short a county inspector stepped on one while assessing the junkyard for compliance. Some of the white pines did not survive and the remaining trees are not close enough together to meet the ordinance.

Instead of planting a whole new row of trees alongside the white pines, Sheriff Tom Alexander suggested simply filling in gaps with new trees.

“Maybe there is some kind of way we could compromise,” Alexander told the commissioners. “If you go in there and put trees in front of the existing trees, you might have the same situation.”

Other than Ammons, the commissioners were not excited about another round of court-ordered tree plantings, however.

“The past two years have been a constant attempt at compromise and it has been constant failure,” said Commissioner Chairman Mark Swanger. “You reach a point when it would be foolish to plant more trees if there is speculation they could be cut down again.”

Kirkpatrick agreed.

“We went out on a limb spending this money to help you come into compliance and we can’t do that again,” Kirkpatrick told Blaylock. Kirkpatrick said perhaps some of Blaylock’s supporters would help him replant the trees.

Until Blaylock complies with the ordinance, he cannot conduct any more business out of his junkyard or the junkyard property, the commissioners decided, reiterating what the court order from two months ago already called for.

Keyed in

Technically, Blaylock was supposed to cease all business at the junkyard two months ago when the court order was issued. Only activity directly related to bringing the junkyard into compliance was allowed, and the junkyard was even padlocked per the court order. Blaylock was then given a key to the padlocks, presumably under one condition.

“He did sign a statement saying he knew the only time he should be in there was to get his property into compliance,” Sheriff Tom Alexander told the commissioners. “I had to give him access or I would be running up and down there every time he had to do something.”

Some commissioners questioned whether that was a good idea, however.

“Having a key and coming and going as one pleases isn’t accomplishing anything.” Swanger said. “You can’t pick and chose which court orders we obey.”

Last Friday, Blaylock had opened all the locks on all the gates and was hauling vehicles back and forth from one part of the junkyard to another. His mission was to move the cars to fenced areas, a seemingly endless task. Records kept by junkyard enforcers show Blaylock was constantly being told to move junk cars behind the fences, only to have cars spilling out of the fences a year later.

But giving Blaylock a key to shuffle cars around also opens the door for Blaylock to deal parts, despite the court order, commissioners said.

Blaylock also is still going out on wrecker calls. When a wrecker or stranded car needs towing, the sheriff’s office and highway patrol go down a list of registered wreckers and choose the next one up in the rotation. Blaylock used to be on the list, but the sheriff stopped using wreckers owned by those in violation of the county’s junk car ordinance. So Blaylock put the business in his nephew’s name and got back on the list.

Commissioners questioned whether he was hauling the cars back to his property.

“This order says that no business is to be conducted up there,” Commissioner Mary Ann Enloe said.

Swanger said it appears a “sham is being made of the judge’s order.”

Alexander said it is hard to prove.

“I’ve not had somebody sit up there and watch Mr. Blaylock’s property 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Alexander said. Alexander said he will take the keys back, however.

“Whenever he needs in there, he’ll have to wait a few minutes until we can get up there with the key,” Alexander said.

Encore

Commissioners could have done what they are doing now nearly two years ago. In January 2004, a court order nearly identical to the one issued this October was handed down by the same judge, Marlene Hyatt. It called for Blaylock to stop conducting business at his junkyard until he met the ordinance. It gave the county authority to bill Blaylock for any work done to bring the junkyard into compliance. And the kicker was a fine of $50 for every day Blaylock was in violation of the ordinance.

Commissioners never followed up on collecting the daily fines, however.

Deputy Mark Williams, the current junkyard enforcer, said that the commissioners’ recent actions send a message to other junkyard owners in violation.

“The county is not going to tolerate it any more,” Williams said, adding there are a couple of other junkyards that could find themselves in the same boat.

Enloe said the county has to be fair to junkyard owners who have complied with the ordinance.

“They would certainly feel put upon if the county back tracked,” Enloe said.

Commissioner Kevin Ensley said he does not agree with the junkyard ordinance, but that does not mean Blaylock can snub the county’s laws.

“I feel like this law is an attack on property rights, but we live in a nation of laws and it is what the community wanted. I don’t agree with it, but I have to abide by it. If we don’t we are living in anarchy,” Ensley said.

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