Business has been good at Duane’s Trucking Ltd. in Lacombe County.
For nearly 40 years, Duane Hecht has been buying used trucks to cannibalize them for often hard-to-find parts for customers far and wide.
Supply chain issues that have often interrupted or delayed the delivery of spare parts has sent even more people to his 29-acre yard filled with hundreds of large trucks and trailers, some dating back decades.
“I’m one of the few yards in Western Canada that this volume of older parts,” Hecht told Lacombe County’s municipal planning commission.
The problem is his yard has been expanding steadily and is much bigger than it is supposed to be.
Hecht went before the planning commission on Thursday seeking retroactive approval for a 10-acre expansion to his yard beyond the 17-acre footprint approved in 2016. It would mean a two-acre reduction in the size of the sprawling yard as it currently exists. He also wanted approval for a new cold storage building already under construction.
The unapproved expansion did not sit well with county planners, who recommended his business be approved for another five years but only if scaled back to the 17-acre site previously approved.
County planning services director Dale Freitag said a two-acre expansion to 17 acres was approved in 2016 with a number of conditions attached.
However, three of those have not been complied with: the unauthorized yard expansion, use of an access road for storage and the storing of vehicles within a 53-metre setback that was supposed to be left free of vehicle storage. While the yard has drawn complaints about its unsightliness over the years, no recent complaints have come in, the planning commission was told.
Freitag asked if Hecht could reduce his yard to the previously approved size if given a couple of years to do it.
Hecht said downsizing to that extent would be “financially crippling” and undermine the goal of his business to recycle and reuse parts that would otherwise be going into landfills or sold for scrap. Many of the trucks he would have to get rid of would be useful for people who can’t get much-needed parts that often aren’t available anymore.
A recent customer made the 460-km journey from Milk River, in southern Alberta, to get a critical part that could not be purchased new, he said.
Hecht, who is 70, said he already has a 10-year retirement plan that would see his business gradually downsized over the next few years. He would then return the property back to farmland. He has intentionally not built gravel roads or made other changes to the land that would complicate turning the land back to food production.
“My full intention is I have to retire someday. I have no intention of leaving a mess if I can (wind the operation down) in a systematic, financial manner,” he said.
County Reeve Barb Shepherd said she had doubts the yard would be reduced as requested by the county.
“I’m not sure what the solution is. If we approve it, it’s out of compliance. If we don’t approve, it’s still a mess.”
Coun. John Ireland proposed a compromise motion that would require Hecht to downsize to 22 acres, but would not need to do any screening, such as building a fence or planting trees.
Citing the importance of the parts business to truck owners, Coun. Ken Weenink suggested an unsuccessful amendment to allow the site to remain at 27 acres.
“I don’t want to lose the recycling,” said Weenink.
Council approved a motion to approve the expansion of Hecht’s yard to 22 acres and giving him one year to clear vehicles from the remaining seven acres.
“I will work on it,” said Hecht, adding “it’s a tough goal.
“A lot of it is a conscience thing. Recycling is very important. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t want it in their backyard.”