After tangling with Castle Rock Township over an illegal scrap yard on his farm, Cole C. Empey moved the business into Farmington, where he quickly ran afoul of the law again.
Empey, 35, pleaded guilty last week to operating a public nuisance, a misdemeanor, said Dakota County Attorney's Office spokeswoman Monica Jensen. She said three related misdemeanor counts were dismissed.
Empey still faces possible state fines over alleged leakage of diesel fuel from his scrap yard last March. About 50 gallons went into a runoff pond and through storm sewers to the Vermillion River, said city Fire Marshal John Powers. Stretches of the river are known for brown trout fishing.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency hired a contractor to recover as much as possible of the light diesel, floating atop the river, Powers said.
The agency is seeking to recoup cleanup costs of $14,358 through a civil action against Empey, whose family lives on a Castle Rock farm outside of Farmington.
Empey, who represented himself on Nov. 19 in Dakota County District Court, could not be reached by phone at his home or business.
For his nuisance plea, Empey was sentenced to 40 hours of community service, charged $580 in fines and court costs, placed on probation for six months and ordered to have no more similar offenses, Jensen said.
City Planner Lee Smick said Empey has left his site at Willow and Fourth streets.
He had rented it from Colin Garvey, who told Smick that Empey planned to run a metal recycling business.
When Empey showed up in March with a tanker truck, a bus and an increasing amount of junk, Smick recalled, "I said 'We can't have this' and I went over there and said to stop immediately because this is a scrap business and we don't allow them in our city."
"He was very open and quite cordial and said he didn't realize a scrap yard was not allowed in [the] city," Smick said.
She said the diesel leak occurred shortly after Empey moved into town. Powers said Empey had been cutting up a bus fuel tank containing diesel that leaked into a runoff pond and eventually the river.
Smick said she gave Empey plenty of time to remove his vehicles and scrap, which he did by May.
Convicted twice in Castle Rock
Castle Rock, which surrounds most of Farmington, had filed nuisance and other charges twice in recent years to shut down Empey's scrap yard. Cole's attorney in the two township cases, Tom Sieben, didn't return calls.
Empey pleaded guilty in April 2011 to illegal outdoor storage and having a scrap yard not permitted in an agriculture district. He was fined $1,280.
He pleaded guilty again to the same illegal storage charge in May 2012 and was fined $380. He was placed on probation until May 2013 for violating his agreement not to operate a scrap yard in an area zoned for agriculture, said Township Board Chairwoman Drea Doffing. She said Empey was a third-generation owner of the family farm, which he leases out for crop farming.
"He cleaned up what was required of him to be [in] compliance" at his farm scrap yard, Doffing said.
"I am hopeful of the situation being resolved with both Castle Rock Township and the city of Farmington."
Jim Adams • 952-746-3283