The rusted-out cars, derelict buildings, run-down trailers and decaying oil drums on the Caldwell property of John McEvoy can be seen from KCID Road in central Canyon County. The land is shielded from prying eyes by a row of bluffs, but they can't conceal the eyesore of decrepit machinery or used tires. According to neighbor Randy Wood, the area has become an illegal junkyard.
"One of the things that really bothers me about it is the lawlessness," Wood said. "Everybody else obeys the law and you have a neighbor who puts septic tanks 100 feet from standing water; runs a junkyard out of an agricultural area."
In 1994, neighbor Debbie Hribik said she observed McEvoy burying oil in a pit on the property. In the years that followed, the 120-acre plot of farmland slowly transformed into a rubbish heap. Frustrated with decades of declining home values and hazardous materials—coupled with a lack of action on the part of local officials—Wood, Hribik and several other neighbors filed suit against McEvoy, who also happens to serve as a Canyon Highway District commissioner.
It won't be the first time McEvoy and his land have run afoul of neighbors. In 2005, two misdemeanor nuisance charges—one for storing two or more non-operational vehicles and another for open debris storage—were dismissed. Abused and free-roaming animals have also been a problem: McEvoy was found guilty in 1999 and 2000 of two charges of misdemeanor livestock at large, for which he was fined, and in 2003 he was found guilty of cruelty to animals.
McEvoy is also on the radar of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, which has conducted two inspections of his property since 2014. The most recent, in July, stemmed from a complaint regarding the unmarked storage of used oil and uncleaned oil spills. As a result, McEvoy will have to excavate oil-stained land, properly label his stores of used oil containers and submit evidence of cleanup to DEQ.
"Some of these were maybe a couple five-gallon buckets of oil that needed to be excavated," said DEQ Remediation Manager Dean Ehlert.
Canyon County officials, however, were less forgiving. In 2012, an inspector from Canyon County Development Services went to McEvoy's property, finding abandoned structures, exposed waste and partially dismantled vehicles. The Canyon County sheriff charged McEvoy with misdemeanor counts of public nuisance and violations for not obtaining appropriate permits for structures. For more than two years, the case was mired in the court system until McEvoy pleaded guilty to the charges in March, 2015. Two days later, neighbors filed a civil suit against McEvoy.
"You're surrounded by junk houses, old abandoned vehicles," Wood said.
Pleading guilty to the criminal charges meant McEvoy would face the possibility of almost a year in prison; but, for his neighbors, it was a crucial link between his growing pile of waste and their sagging property values—an admission that the collection of unsalvageable structures, rusting equipment and fields of tires on McEvoy's land had extended into the lives of other people.
"We were waiting for a guilty plea in the criminal suit before filing our civil suit," Hribik said.
On the advice of his attorney, McEvoy said he wouldn't comment on the current case, but on March 19, 2015, he asked the court to withdraw his initial guilty plea to the criminal charges. Two courts have so far denied his requests to change that plea, and the criminal case is awaiting review by the Idaho Supreme Court.
"Our office has continued to set and vacate hearings for when the [ruling on the] appeal comes through," said Canyon County Public Information Officer Joe Decker.
Even if McEvoy's conviction is upheld, it could be years before the debris on his land is cleared.
"I am not going to give up until someone digs up that oil I saw [McEvoy] dump 20 years ago," said Hribik.