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A man and his cars cause years of headache for Shakopee
/ By Meg Britton-Mehlisch
Photo by Southwest News Media
Truck caps, pallets, and piles of tires dot the edge of the
wooded portion of Gerald Schmitz’s property.
Photo by Shakopee Valley News
Drone photos taken in 2016 show how a strip of woodland hides
Gerald Schmitz’s home and car collection from view. The assortment
of cars, tires and boats is not readily visible to cars that pass
the property on Marschall Road.
A aerial photo from the city of Shakopee shows the extent of the
car graveyard on Gerald Schmitz’s property. City officials say the
2018 image represents the most accurate look of the lot’s current
Driving down Marschall Road south of Shakopee, a casual driver might not notice the outcropping of dense brush and woodlands near the intersection with 150th Street. You have to look closely to see the decaying corpses of long dead cars, wooden pallets, tires and truck cabs piled up among the trees.
For more than a decade, city officials have been acutely aware of the property, trying every legal option at their disposal to get the lot’s owner, Gerald Schmitz, 71, to clean up the area. Shakopee Police Chief Jeff Tate called the level of debris and refuse on the property “mind boggling.”
The city has issued Schmitz more than 20 tickets for ordinance violations related to exterior storage, trash disposal and junked cars since 2008. Fifteen of those tickets have been issued this year alone. The police department is currently issuing a ticket every week, on average.
Photo by Southwest News Media
A rare break in the trees shows the entrance to the Schmitz
property is a labyrinth of tires, trash and truck parts. Shakopee
city officials have tried for over a decade to get the owner,
Gerald Schmitz, to clean up the property.
Anyone who makes it past Schmitz’s “no trespassing” signs can see that the extent of the junk just behind the property’s woodland barrier and down a short driveway. A labyrinth of trails travels among an estimated 150 junked cars, boats and snowmobiles. Thin paths work their way through the graveyard of auto parts, past trees wrapped in trash, to a home and barn.
“I’ve never seen [anything like] it before and I hope I never see it again,” Tate said.
Shakopee City Planner Mark Noble said the city isn’t targeting Schmitz with the deluge of tickets, just responding to what has grown into a community issue.
The lot is surrounded by a series of wetlands that extend to neighboring properties, including land owned by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Out of concern about the property’s environmental impact, SMSC has backed Shakopee’s actions.
“The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community supports the city of Shakopee’s efforts to clean the property and protect area groundwater and natural resources,” SMSC Operations Administrator Stephen Albrecht said in a prepared statement. “Environmental stewardship is a priority for our tribe, as we follow our cultural value of planning seven generations ahead.”
Tate said the extent of the junk would have anyone worried.
“Even the most passive environmentalist would look at this and be upset,” he said.
Residents who live nearby aren’t just upset with what’s going on at the surface of Schmitz’s land, they’re worried about the water table below. Many of the neighboring properties get their water from private wells and there’s a fear that the deteriorating vehicles could be contaminating the groundwater.
It’s uncertain if contamination has already occurred. Noble said that would require groundwater testing, for which Schmitz and other neighbors would have to give their permission. The city planner said thus far Shakopee’s plan has been to remove the vehicles, then assess the damage. But after 11 years, limited progress has been made on that front.
Legal action by the city has had little influence on Schmitz. A case stemming from a 2013 ticket concluded with Schmitz spending 58 days in the Scott County Jail in 2017. The sentence came after Schmitz failed to comply with a plea deal that offered no jail time in exchange for cleaning the property.
The property’s landscape appears relatively unchanged since Schmitz’s release. And as a result, in the last year, city officials have fielded an influx of calls from frustrated neighbors. So Shakopee is taking Schmitz to court once again, hoping a judge will give them the authority to clean up the property.
Schmitz declined to comment when reached by phone and his current lawyer, Richard Lea, did not respond to a request for comment.
rminske / File photo
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