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Township takes a resident to court over scrapyard

Castle Rock Township is going to court with one of its residents over an unlicensed scrapyard that sprung up last year and has drawn numerous complaints from neighbors.

The township started getting complaints in July of last year about the property on Biscayne Avenue. According to court documents the property is owned by J. Empey Development, which is owned by three brothers. Cole Empey is the only individual mentioned by name in the complaint summons filed in Dakota County Court.

According to Terri Pearson, who lives nearby, the problems on the property started when someone started hauling scrap metal around the property late last spring.

"We just kind of thought he was cleaning up the property, because it's an old farmstead," Pearson said.

But as the weeks went on, the junk kept coming. And the operation kept getting louder. Gary Johnson, another neighbor who lives about four houses away, said there were people working on the property from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. There was banging and grinding and the sound of large pieces of metal slamming together.

At one point, neighbors heard blasts loud enough some started driving around to see if someone's house had exploded.

"We had neighbors who didn't even want to sit out in their hot tub and enjoy a nice night because of the noise," Johnson said.

Neighbors complained to the town board, and the board sent a letter to Empey in August informing him of the complaints. A second letter in August demanded that Empey stop any scrap metal activity on the property. But operations on the property continued, and neighbors said the amount of junk on the property kept showing growing.

As the work continued, neighbors got more and more frustrated.

"Residents feel the township board really was not responsive to complaints," Johnson said. "They have what they call a process. I will say their process is very inefficient and doesn't work. They are not truly enforcing the township ordinance."

In September, Empey filed a public hearing application form with the township in which he requested an interim use permit to create and maintain a farm equipment recycling/junk yard. But according to court documents the request was incomplete and in places illegible. The Castle Rock Town Board did not act on the request because it was not complete.

Neighbors eventually complained to Dakota County, and county inspectors came out twice to look at the property. The first time they found scrap metal, but not enough that the operation would have required permitting from the county. The second time, investigators found more scrap metal. According to an e-mail from Jeff Harthun, the county's environmental management director, investigators found hazardous waste on the property including used oil, appliances, lead acid batteries, gas cylinders and solvents.

Harthun said the county did not pursue the complaints against the operation because it was not supposed to be there in the first place.

"It's really in the hands of the township and their attorney right now," Harthun said. "We're just sort of waiting to see how it gets resolved."

For the time being, at least, it appears that resolution will come through the court system. The township filed criminal charges against Empey because a code enforcement violation is a misdemeanor, township attorney Robert Bauer said.

There was a pre-trial hearing in the case against Empey on Feb. 2. The matter is scheduled to go to trial April 4.

County board chair Russell Zellmer declined to comment on the matter because of the lawsuit. Empey did not return a call seeking comment.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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