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Planning again seeks funds to survey Roby junkyard

Maurice Roby’s progress in cleaning up his decades-old junkyard in Laconia may be slow, but it’s fast enough to satisfy the Harrison County Council.
The council came under the gun Monday night for refusing to allocate $2,500 for an environmental assessment of the junkyard so the county can clean it up and recoup the costs from the sale of recyclables, including scrap metal.
‘We seem to be having trouble getting funding for that,’ Vic McCauley, chair of the advisory plan commission, told the council, despite a court order calling for the funds to be approved. ‘I’m here to find out why. It’s a community problem, and it needs to be resolved.’
Roby’s junkyard, in existence when zoning ordinances were adopted in the mid-1970s, no longer qualifies for the grandfather clause because it has been expanded. The advisory plan commission and council have been at loggerheads over the issue nearly a decade.
Council chair Gary Davis told McCauley there should be no misunderstanding as to the council’s stance on the issue, and it’s not likely to change.
‘There is no communication problem,’ Davis said. ‘It is clear and on the record the council is not in favor of funding this. There is support on the council to get the property cleaned up, but not for an environmental assessment. Our attorney (Michael Summers) doesn’t think the court order affects the council, because we’re not a party to the (lawsuit).’
Besides all that, Davis said, ‘We just don’t want to do it.’
McCauley said the council’s lack of support undermines the plan commission’s authority by taking away the teeth it has to enforce ordinances, such as lawsuits. He called the council’s refusal ‘woefully negligent.’
Davis said the majority on the seven-member council thinks it was inappropriate for the plan commission to take action without the council’s approval. ‘We’re not very happy with you, either,’ Davis said.
Councilman Carl (Buck) Mathes, the council’s representative on the plan commission, said the council’s lack of support ‘opens the door for somebody to do what they want to and get away with it.
‘The teeth (in the ordinance) is taking them to court … Everybody wants to hide behind the plan commission but sometimes you have to pay up.’
Mathes said the plan commission will return again with its request, but Davis said the funding proposal would have to be advertised again before the council could take action.
Councilwoman Rhonda Rhoads told McCauley that the court has given the plan commission a way to pay for the study. ‘You can sell things to pay for that,’ she said. ‘That’s what should be done.’
Councilman Kenneth Saulman said the council’s reluctance is due to the questionable costs of such a survey, especially in light of those conducted at the old Wennings Packing Plant in Central Barren. ‘I’m not going to get the county involved,’ he said. ‘I’m not going to put that burden on the taxpayer.’
Saulman said Roby is cleaning up his property, so Saulman doesn’t see the need for an environmental assessment.
He complained of other junkyards (two on the street where he lives) which the plan commission has allowed to grow.
‘That’s Buck’s point right there,’ Councilman Chris Timberlake said.
In other matters Monday night, the council:
‘ Voted 5-1 to continue sharing 18 percent of the riverboat casino revenue with neighboring counties and New Albany and incorporated towns within Harrison County, at the current percentages. Interlocal agreements will be prepared which, as usual, allow officials to alter those amounts if Harrison County’s share is changed by the state. Mathes cast the dissenting vote. He wanted to reduce Crawford County’s 8 percent share because that county receives other riverboat funds.
‘ Approved 5-1 a $150,000 request for riverboat revenue funds from the alternative school to continue operating, currently in the annex building. Rhoads cast the dissenting vote without comment.
‘ Approved 4-2 a $175,000 request for riverboat funds to make up the balance needed by the Solid Waste Management District to purchase a building for its operations. Mathes and Councilman Alvin Brown dissented, citing the ability of the district to raise its own taxes to fund its operation. ‘I would be willing to raise their tax rate, which is just pennies on individual tax bills,’ Mathes said. ‘It would be a very minute amount.’ The district is contributing $300,000 toward the purchase, for which the county earlier made a down payment of $125,000. The facility is located at 3151 Progress Boulevard in Industrial Park north of Corydon.