Dallas County salvage yards thrive as enforcement is ignored

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Early this year, Dallas County officials raided and closed several auto salvage businesses south of the city.

They were going to crack down on violators of county codes, but something happened. Enforcement suddenly stopped and the yards reopened and county officials won't say why.

For decades, the land along Dowdy Ferry Road in southern Dallas County has been home to a nature preserve, a lush, wooded thicket along the Trinity River and the Dallas Hunting and Fishing Club. There's the old Whittle Feed Store, where real cowboys come buy supplies and the critters still roam out back.

But the neighborhood is changing. The woods and pasture lands along Dowdy Ferry Road are being swallowed by acres of auto salvage yards.

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Long-time residents and business owners, like Wanda Boyce of the Whittle Feed Store, are not happy. "It's not the pretty area. It's either fences, walls up with wrecked cars behind it or seeing wrecked cars on the side of the road," said Boyce. "As you drive down the road, there's none of the rural open area anymore. It's car to cars to cars."

Ben Eastep owns Metro Lawn Care just up the road. He's upset too. "They spill stuff, the chemicals and the oil and all that stuff that are going in the ground," said Eastep. "It's real obvious that they are not complying with anything."

Not complying with Dallas County Court Order 2010-0913, adopted by county commissioners in May of 2010, taking a stand against salvage yards and mandating "Solid barrier fences at least eight feet high," such that the contents "cannot reasonably be seen from an adjacent street or property."

Take a ride up the road with local resident John Cook and he will fill you in. "There's no 8-foot fencing over there, and a number of vehicles that are stacked up right on the road over there," said Cook.

Drive a little farther and he really comes unglued. "You can still see this business is out of compliance because of the lack of any fencing front side or back," said Cook. "Cars have been stacked up three and four high in the back behind the secondary fencing. Umm, I'd say that's out of compliance."

Last November, Cook contacted Dallas County to complain. In January, two months later, the Dallas County Fire Marshal responded by raiding the salvage yards, finding them not only out of compliance, but also operating without a county permit. They were all padlocked for two weeks and reopened when they all agreed to come into compliance.

Eight months later, residents say the salvage yards are worse. Even more, crushed cars still stacked over eight feet high. A lava flow of junk tires spilling down into the neighboring Trinity River. Auto fluids still leak out onto the ground, according to environmentalist Ben Sandifer. "What first got my attention was the smell, where you could smell gasoline, ethylene glycol," said Sandifer.

Sandifer has spent the past few years documenting the deteriorating conditions and has even filed a complaint with state regulators. "It almost broke my heart several weeks after the January raid to see all of those companies back open for business," said Sandifer. "It makes no sense because the conditions didn't change. There was no compliance the conditions only got worse."

And that's not all, WFAA has learned that only one of the ten salvage businesses on the short stretch of Dowdy Ferry Road has obtained its Operation Permit. The attorney representing several of the businesses says permit applications have been filed and are still awaiting approval from the County.

All of the land is either owned or leased by Chris Nasrallah. Nasrallah admits most of the businesses on his land are not compliant with Court Order 2010-0913, despite his efforts to convince them to conform to codes.  

"I agree with the Court Order," Nasrallah told WFAA. "But let me tell you this. You need to talk to Fire Marshal."

So we did.

Dallas County Fire Marshal Robert Del Los Santos is charged with enforcing the rules governing auto salvage yards. Remember, it was the Fire Marshal who first padlocked all the yards last January.

But two weeks later, Dallas County's Civil District Attorney allowed them to reopen after operators agreed to come into compliance.

But the lack of permits, the lack of fences, the stacked cars and tires still along Dowdy Ferry Road provides compelling evidence, they never did come into compliance. The mystery remains as to why.

"We met with the Civil District Attorney's office and there were negotiations being made," said De Los Santos. "I guess you need to talk to them."

Late Wednesday we spoke with Dallas County District Attorney's Civil Division Chief Russell Rhoden. His response, the Fire Marshal is in charge of enforcement, not his office.

So now, five-and-a-half months after WFAA first started asking questions about the lack of salvage yard enforcement, not one county official has stepped up to take responsibility. And the stacking and crushing of wrecked cars continues.