Stubborn Junkyard: Dillon couple get help from DEQ's Brownfields program

Stubborn Junkyard: Dillon couple get help from DEQ’s Brownfields program


DILLON – Eric and Alicia Wendland light up at the mention of the country music tune “Buy Dirt.”

The recent song describes a man in his early 80s who offers advice to a young man looking for a dollar.

“If you want my two cents to count as a dollar, buy some land,” advises the elder.

The Wendlands did just that.

Alicia, 34, was born and raised in Dillon. Eric, 38, was born in Le Havre and lived in Rudyard before moving to Dillon in eighth grade. Both are graduates of Beaverhead County High School and both call Dillon home.

They followed the saying of buying land long before the good man’s advice became a hit song on country radio.

Several years ago, beginning around 2009, the couple purchased land and built homes in Williston, North Dakota, just before the Bakken shale oil boom created a housing shortage. That same year, Alicia and Eric got married.

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In 2015, the Wendlands returned to Dillon. And they launched a protracted but ultimately successful effort to purchase land then occupied by a junkyard full of abandoned cars, rusting metal drums, greasy machinery, old tires and rims, a few decrepit structures, construction debris and more. Again. The visual pollution was easily visible to anyone exiting Interstate 15 at the city’s northernmost freeway exit.

“When we first moved, we wanted to do something for the community,” Eric said. “The breakage has always been there. We knew the property was a mess. We knew we had to acquire adjacent properties.

What the Wendlands didn’t know was how difficult such a project would be.

“We were very naive,” Eric said.

The couple did not know the extent to which petroleum products or other contaminants had polluted the site. Enter the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s Brownfields program and employees Jason Seyler and Brandon Kingsbury.

“They’ve been fantastic,” Eric said. “They were there every step of the way.”

The Montana DEQ Brownfields program works collaboratively to address hazardous substance and petroleum sites across the state that can be reused or redeveloped once the cleanup is complete. DEQ said the program provides both technical and financial expertise for the assessment and cleanup of brownfield properties, as well as grant writing assistance, outreach and workshops for interested communities. .

With financial assistance from Headwaters RC&D, the DEQ dug over 200 test holes and found nothing that is considered a threat to human health or the environment.

“We have a good health record,” said Eric.

The project has moved forward. Eric and Alicia finally took control of the property in 2021.

“It’s really a good thing for the Dillon community,” said Jake Gruber, DEQ Environmental Project Officer. “What was once an eyesore along the highway has now been transformed into something the general public can enjoy and will be an asset to the community. We salute the efforts of everyone involved to clean up this property and move towards renewed use for the community. »

Rebecca Jones, executive director of the Beaverhead Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, said no one seems to yearn for the sight that once greeted motorists traveling to or from I-15.

“Everyone is so thankful that Junkyard isn’t here,” Jones said. “We are happy to support Eric and Alicia in their efforts.”

These efforts also included the purchase of land and the construction of houses under the name of ENA Carpentry and Construction.

For residential developer Ron Swenson, ENA has built many homes and plans to build more.

The modest-sized solar homes built for Swenson are meant to be affordable for middle-income households.

These building works and other projects have maintained a stream of income for the Wendlands and their children during the period when the dump project required the kind of financial outflow that can lead to counting entire flocks of sheep overnight.

Now that the site is cleared and leveled, the next step will be seeding. Part of the acreage is within the Blacktail Creek floodplain and is therefore not suitable for development. For the rest, around 29 acres, Eric and Alicia and possibly a consultant are working on a comprehensive plan for a mixed-use development on the site.

The Wendlands met in Dillon. Alicia’s maiden name was Rose. Eric served in the United States Navy as a helicopter rescue swimmer from 2003 to 2007. Eric and Alicia have four children: Landen, Alydia, Layne and Cole. The family now live in one of the homes they built for Swenson, but plan to build a family home on one of the adjoining properties acquired in the dump transaction.

Eric seems fired with such a bright and strong entrepreneurial spirit that he could help power one of Swenson’s houses.

A conference presentation by the Wendlands on the scrapyard brownfields project quoted Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax”: “Unless someone like you cares a whole lot / Nothing’s gonna get better / This it’s not the case.”

Most of us know how to remove ice from our windshields and defog our windows in the winter. But there is one setting that you should avoid activating during the winter period – the “air recirculation” button.

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