Auto Auction Proposal Denied
A proposal to convert Atco Dragway into an auto auction storing thousands of damaged cars is unanimously denied.
By Andrew Gold, Legal DirectorAugust 10, 2021
On Thursday, July 29, the Waterford Township Joint Land Use Board voted unanimously to deny the application by Insurance Auto Auctions to convert the historic Atco Dragway, at the edge of Wharton State Forest and the Mullica River, into an auction facility storing thousands of damaged cars. PPA believes this is an important victory for the Pinelands, the township, and the racing community.
The Board and numerous interested parties and members of the public correctly identified a range of problems with this proposal. First, it is highly doubtful that the drafters of Waterford Township’s code sections permitting used car sales ever thought that would apply to a facility holding thousands of totaled cars, functioning more like a salvage yard than a car dealership. Additionally, both the town’s code and the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan require that the number of inoperable cars that would have been stored here would have to be drained of gasoline, an endeavor IAA candidly acknowledged it was not prepared to undertake. IAA likely would have required a variance to store its cars without draining them, but that issue was not even reached because the Board found that IAA’s operation was not permitted in this zoning area of the township.
IAA had originally proposed storing the cars on an impervious paved surface, but after the Board raised questions about the applicable impervious cover limit on the multi-lot parcel, the applicant re-designed the plan to store its cars on gravel. While in other contexts a pervious gravel surface would be preferable to reduce stormwater runoff, this was a unique situation. Thousands of damaged cars, which could be leaking automotive fluids, would be sitting on a pervious surface directly atop the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer, where any substances from the cars would percolate, unfiltered by vegetation or otherwise, into the shallow water table. IAA repeatedly assured the Board that its staff were capable of monitoring and cleaning up any spills, but it simply is not practical to expect a handful of employees to be able to timely identify leaks among thousands of cars, particularly on a gravel surface where detection would be difficult. There was a valid question of how this operation would cumulatively impact water quality over time. Without clarity on that issue, the applicant’s Environmental Impact Statement was insufficient and did not serve its intended purpose.
IAA went to great lengths to argue that the current use of the site was no better and possibly worse for the environment than the auto auction would be by introducing photos of cars flying through flames and drums of automotive fluids sold on site. The applicant’s own water testing results, however, showed that water quality nearby was generally good, with some slightly adverse results pointing more toward farming operations upstream than being caused by the Dragway. PPA’s own staff, moreover, have been to the area frequently over the past several months and found abundant amphibian activity adjacent to the site, indicating high water quality.
While we do not know exactly what the future holds for the Atco Dragway, for the time being, we believe it is a positive for the Pinelands that there be a legal, contained outlet for intensive recreation such as this.