Junkyard debate harbors intolerance

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Life can be unfair. Ask anyone if they want to live next to a junkyard and the answer is a resounding no. Ask someone where do they go when their aging vehicle needs a part, and they’re likely to describe a junkyard.

Forget the NIMBY approach to life, which stands for “Not In My Backyard.” Some in West Paris would like to ban junkyards from the town completely.

Apparently, a debate is brewing over what to do about Paris Metals Junkyard. On most days, Paris Metals, owned by Ernie Yap, is an inconspicuous piece of land with a bunch of….well, junk. It’s also smack in the middle of town.

There are cars and other pieces of metal on the property. People work with torches. It’s a business with a definable customer base.

Junkyards have been around for ages, and often serve a clientele that relishes the chance to find that old backseat for their old car, or a carbuerator to replace their old one.

Most young people probably never heard of a carbuerator, and would not know what one looked like if they saw it. Cars weren’t always digitalized. Cars used to be driven. That’s something you can find at a junkyard, a car where there are no GPS devices and a cigarette lighter was standard.

Not to promote smoking but those are the kinds of things you find in a junkyard.

Now it seems some in West Paris would like to see Mr. Yap either relocate his business or have the department of Maine Department of Environmental Protection intervene.

Is all of  this necessary? What’s next, shutting down the factory that makes widgets by using flames and other hazardous methods?

When the junkyard Mr. Yap owns caught fire in August, it took firefighters from all across Western Maine to extinguish the blaze. At times it resembled a raging inferno, belching plumes of thick smoke and presenting residents with a scary scenario.

Luckily, no one was injured in the blaze but it has generated a lot of discussion on how best to make Mr. Yap more accountable to the town while doing what he needs to make sure his business is safe. The fire chief says Mr. Yap has been cooperative in making sure his property is secured, and possibilities of more fires are lowering.

West Paris Fire Chief Norm St. Pierre, during the town’s Selectboard meeting on Oct. 10, told the board that if this past summer had been a dry one, the entire side of the mountain that the junkyard sits on would have gone up in flames.

Fire chiefs more than most people understand the nature of fires and how they spread. There probably is some validity to St. Pierre’s claims. But raging fires dominated the national news out West in Colorado, and no one mentioned a junkyard. Nature has proven to be far less forgiving than a junkyard owner.

Here’s a noble thought. Leave the man alone.

So his junkyard caught fire. It happens. When a fire breaks out at a nightclub, no one rushes to the alcohol and beverage board suggesting the town goes dry. We pick up the pieces, find another hangout and move on.

When a hospital catches fire, no one says the hospital needs to move to a more remote location. We still need a doctor.

When a restaurant, a residence or a race car catches fire, not many are willing to ban the food, evict the tenant or fail to refuel the car.

So why the unfiltered assault on a junkyard?

Maybe a junkyard isn’t the most desireable looking place to dot the rural landscape. Then again, what would the rural landscape be without them? Besides, who decided junkyard standards are not up to snuff here? It is a legitimate business that serves a public need. Should extra precautions be taken to avoid such incidents in the future? Of course they should.

But a full-frontal assault on this junkyard – or any junkyard, for that matter – is uncalled for, and inherently unfair. Have we reached the point where we live in a community where everybody’s trying to earn a living, but some people want to dictate what that living is?

This summer,house fires happened in Western Maine with alarming frequency, and people blamed neither the junkyard nor the janitor. Several old homes were burned to the ground, and fire officials still don’t have the answers.

As individuals express outrage at Mr. Yap, maybe they and town officials who have jumped on the get-rid-of-the-junkyard bandwagon should ask themselves this question:

Do you toss out the business that held the metal spark that helped ignite the blaze, or do you work toward a solution that prevents the spark from igniting in the future? That seems far more reasonable, and certainly a fairer way to address the problem.

As long as there are devices that can ignite a blaze, we will always have fires. The desired outcome should not be to punish someone who suffers the grave losses. The outcome should be to work toward prevention. Anything else borders on intolerance.

All indications are Mr. Yap is doing his best to prevent future incidents. For that, he should be commended, not burned at the stake.

The Advertiser Democrat Editorial Board