ORONOCO — Piles of tires and other automotive rubbish remain at the former Oronoco Auto Salvage along the banks of the Zumbro River.

And the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency wants the owners to clean up the mess.

"While Oronoco Auto Parts has removed the remaining waste vehicle fluids that were on site, along with a significant amount of solid waste, there is still much work to do," said MPCA spokeswoman Cathy Malakowsky. "The MPCA is committed to seeing the cleanup completed, and will use all the tools in its regulatory toolbox to bring the site into compliance with state rules."

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To force the owners of the property to complete the cleanup, the MPCA filed suit against Oronoco Auto Salvage and its owners, and a hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 2 in Ramsey County District Court.

The owners of Oronoco Auto Salvage – Clyde Payne, Russ Payne and Chris Eriksson – were not able to be contacted. A number listed on the website for a company they own was not valid.

On Aug. 27, 2020, the MPCA gave Oronoco Auto Salvage 20 days to respond to an administrative order that included a series of complaints concerning solid waste and hazardous waste at the site.

The MPCA's concern focus on 31 55-gallon drums containing used oil that were stored at the site and piles of auto parts and other related junk that is unsecured on the ground. The MPCA also has asked Oronoco Auto Salvage to obtain permits related to the storage of the material, and to hire a qualified environmental specialist to "develop a work plan to characterize contaminated areas at the Facility . . . submit the work plan to the MPCA for review and approval."

The plan, according to documents filed by the MPCA, was to include a schedule for implementation and completion. However, the cleanup, according to the court documents, was not completed in a timely manner, and the MPCA plans to force the owners to finish the job.

Tammy Matzke, a supervisor on the Oronoco Township Board and a property owner about a mile downstream from the site, said the salvage yard has been an environmental disaster for years, and cleaning up the site is just part of the problem.

The former Oronoco Auto Parts site Friday, July 23, 2021, in Oronoco. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
The former Oronoco Auto Parts site Friday, July 23, 2021, in Oronoco. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Matzke said years of flooding by the Zumbro River has washed down hundreds of tires and tons of vehicle parts debris over the years.

Matzke said she's frustrated because she wants to see the owners of the salvage yard held responsible for the mess not only on their property but be financially responsible for the mess that's been made downriver.

Two years ago, a flood washed tires, car parts and half-full barrels of used automotive fluids down the river and onto other people's property. It wasn't the first time this had happened, as half-buried items on the riverbanks attest.

If volunteers were to try moving some of those items, she said, she's afraid they might cause more harm by moving hazardous waste.

"What if we run over a barrel, crack it open?" Matzke asked.

The current lawsuit covers only the salvage yard site.