Two Middleton city employees threatened to fine one of its residents for washing his Jeep’s engine in his driveway.
Middleton resident Shawn Alexander told IdahoReporter.com Thursday the city’s actions angered him.
“I feel like I’ve been wronged,” Alexander said in a phone interview.
Alexander said he was only removing mud from the SUV’s engine, not oil. “I don’t have any leaks or anything,” he said.
That caught the attention of two city officials, who stopped the wash in progress. Alexander said the workers asked him to stop and intimated he would have received a citation had code enforcement observed his activity.
“I’m like, ‘are you serious?’” he said.
The city workers, which Middleton city didn’t identify during a call from IdahoReporter.com, said the Clean Water Act prevents residents from discharging polluted water into storm drains.
Federal guidelines try to prevent myriad chemicals from finding their way into America’s streams and rivers. The rules outlaw anyone from dumping water mixed with oil, grease, gasoline and other harmful chemicals into storm drains flowing into waterways without treatment.
The guidelines don’t block dirt and mud from flowing into drains, though.
“I could understand oil and antifreeze,” Alexander said.
He offered a few more thoughts on a public Facebook post about the incident.
“The city is bitching over a shovel full of dirt!,”he wrote. “They better start warning everyone that irrigates their yard and it runs into the gutter, sprinklers running on the sidewalks and Idaho Power that is working on the lines in my neighborhood better not let anything go down the drain. I’m mad because they threatened to fine me over a little mud.”
Opinions on the thread varied widely. “Its because it goes into storm drains which go untreated into the river,” wrote Tammy Dittenber. “The city gets huge fines for violating storm water runoff regulations....which the rest of taxpayers pick up the bill for. Some taxpayers balk at the thought of paying for someone else's crap to pollute the water.”
Alexander’s story isn’t entirely unique. In 2013, a New York cop threatened to fine a 24-year-old man for washing his 1997 Volkswagen car in his driveway because Long Island bans the act of cleaning autos at residences. A Belmont, Calif., inspected threatened a resident in that town with a fine and up to six months in prison for washing his car in his driveway.
Arlington, Virg., took the actions a step further, banning charity car washes to save the environment. Washington state imposed a statewide ban on driveway car washes due to concerns about soaps and detergents flowing into storm drains.
Middleton Mayor Darin Taylor said his city seeks to meet federal guidelines outlined in stormwater and wastewater permits.
“The city has been pretty public about it,” the mayor said about Middleton’s efforts to educate residents about water restrictions.
As for Thursday’s incident, Taylor said it’s an isolated case and city workers only noticed Alexander due to his proximity to a road construction project. “We’re not out enforcing this stuff,” Taylor said. “This particular one just caught this guy’s (the city employee) eye.”
Taylor added more to Alexander’s story, noting the resident works at a facility that processes bentonite, which the mayor said shouldn’t flow into drains. “We can’t have that sediment in there,” Taylor said.
Alexander said he occasionally rinses his Jeep to remove any bentonite residue left on his vehicle, but said city officials approached him due to the car washing, not the sediment his SUV might carry.
Taylor suggested Middleton resident wash their cars and trucks on their lawns or graveled parking areas, such as those used to store travel trailers or RVs.