In early July, the Kodiak Island Borough instated an officer to enforce violations of the Uniform Table of Minor Offenses. The set of fines applies to violations of borough rules for things like abandoning junk cars and disposing of trash improperly.
But the UMOT does not cover everything, and some common offenses are not easily enforced — much to the frustration of some residents.
A few of those frustrated residents live on Hemlock Street, where piles of furniture, metal scraps, wooden blocks and old machines have spilled onto the sidewalk from private property.
The residents are worried that the piles of junk and abandoned vehicles lining the street are becoming a health hazard.
They complain that the junk heaps, which began appearing in March, have created a mouse infestation and have also blocked the sidewalk, forcing children who are on their way to school walk out onto the street and into traffic.
“It smells bad and lots of mice (are) running around,” said Belma Llorente, one of the frustrated residents.
She said she has spoken to the borough’s code enforcement officer multiple times, but was told he could not do anything about the issue.
“The borough said they went already to take a look but they don't have anything to do to clean up that garbage. They said it’s (private) property,” Llorente said.
Erin Welty, the borough’s community development director, said her department is investigating the issue, but the process is not simple because the cited violations are not fineable offenses.
“There are procedures we have to follow and it is not always an immediate solution, especially since this type of violation was not one that this assembly chose to assign a fine to, so it can't automatically be dealt with from a fine standpoint,” Welty said.
For fineable violations included on the UMOT, the code enforcement officer writes the property owner a citation requiring them to pay the fines and appear in court. But without fines to back up some violations, enforcement is more complicated.
Welty said the property on Hemlock Street has numerous borough code violations, including accumulating solid waste and creating a public nuisance or health hazard, establishing an illegal junkyard and leaving junk or abandoned vehicles.
Some Hemlock Street residents said they complained to the borough about the situation one month ago, and are frustrated at the apparent lack of action.
Aurora Yamat, who has lived on the street for 28 years, said she is having a hard time selling her house. She thinks this is at least partially due to the mess across on the street and the recent mouse infestation.
One of Yamat’s neighbors, who is 69 years old and requested to remain anonymous, said she is worried about disease spreading from the trash heap, as well as the recent mouse problem.
“That’s what I'm worried about. My house is next to them and yesterday somebody threw garbage on my lawn,” she said on Thursday, adding that she has never seen so much garbage on her street in the 33 years she has owned her house.
Welty said that improperly disposed-of trash on private property has recently become a larger issue, with several properties currently under investigation.
“It’s just very difficult to deal with when we don't have a straight fine or citation process,” Welty said. She added that at a recent work session, assembly members were made aware of all the violations that exist within the code but are not included in the citation schedule.
“They (the assembly) chose to wait a year before addressing any of those specifically,” she said.
Welty said the department began investigating the hazard on Hemlock Street after her staff received the first complaint. About two weeks ago, the borough began the process of notifying the property owner of the violation.
The borough typically waits 30 days from the day the letter is delivered to the property owner to move forward with litigation.
“There was some difficulty in finding the property owner, and ultimately a letter was delivered to the property,” Welty said.
If, after 30 days, the property owner has not fixed the violations, the borough would likely pursue a motion for an injunction with the superior court, requesting the property owner to cease all activities creating the violation.
The borough would seek an order compelling the owner to clean up the property. At a minimum, they would also request to recover their attorney’s fees, she said.
“If they didn’t clean it up, there would be fines imposed by the court because they would be in contempt of court,” Welty said.
This is not the first time residents have been frustrated with the code enforcement system. Welty’s department has received a significant number of complaints about violations that are in the code but are not included in the UMOT.
She said that in the past, the assembly has demonstrated a desire to limit enforcement on private property.
In the meantime, the frustrated residents of Hemlock Street have been advised by the borough to contact assembly members about the issue.
Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Bill Roberts advised the residents to write a letter addressed to him and submit it to the clerk’s office.
“This might be an eye-opener to them,” he said about the assembly. “It won't solve a lot of problems but it will help goad things. This isn't the first time this has happened.”
Llorente said she understands the regulations, but is exasperated with how much the junk heap continues to grow.
“I know there are rules and regulations, but this is too much now,” she said.