The old Katz' scrapyard, the black eye along Interstate 80 that greeted visitors to the bucolic Poconos for decades before it was crushed by debt and legal disputes, has a new owner from the Bronx who plans on bringing it back to life by May or sooner.
Work has already started to prepare the site for business, and the activity triggered an inspection last week of the 14.9-acre property by the Monroe County Conservation District for possible environmental violations.
The report states the new owners, operating under the name Re-Earth of Stroudsburg, allowed conditions that could potentially pollute McMichael Creek. It also found Re-Earth didn’t get a permit for stormwater discharges for construction at the site involving the replacement of concrete slabs. Cleanup work was underway earlier this week at the site, located just before the Park Avenue exit of westbound I-80.
The resurrected junkyard is owned by Alpha Recycling, a Bronx, N.Y. company that bills itself as North America's largest processors of catalytic converters. Alpha bought the old junkyard for $1.19 million in 2018 under the Re-Earth name, according to courthouse records. The company’s website states the site will operate under the name Alpha Recycling Highway 80.
Stroudsburg’s mayor and a borough council member on Thursday explained that whatever aesthetic concerns are at play over the junkyard are missing a much larger point. The junkyard sits along a three-mile stretch of I-80 between the Dreher Avenue and Park Avenue exits that will undergo part of a half-billion dollar-plus renovation in the next few years.
The project will include the installation of sound barriers that could not only muffle the daily sound of 60,000 cars and vehicles but also block the view of the junkyard, if engineers determine sound barriers along that stretch of the highway are warranted.
That piece of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's plans is unknown, as is the number and the location of the properties and businesses that will be affected by the project, now under review in a lengthy process by engineers.
In cash-strapped Stroudsburg, Mayor Tarah Probst said she’s just glad a new business is opening up and doesn’t worry about the view from the highway, down a steep embankment to the old junkyard, given the unknowns surrounding PennDOT’s plans.
“We don’t know what the visual impact will be,” Probst said.
Council member Boyd Weiss said he’s not happy the scrapyard is returning and he wonders what it will look like once the I-80 expansion project is completed.
“Something fishy is going on here,” Weiss said. In order to add a new lane in each direction on the interstate, along with other work, Weiss said PennDOT will have to look at taking a bite out of the junkyard. It can’t look for new land to expand on the other side of the highway, he said, because there’s a stream that PennDOT will have to steer clear of.
“They can’t go into the creek,” he said. “Any expansion has to go on the other side.” PennDOT will “have to go through the junkyard,” said Weiss.
The old junkyard sits on property with a long history, dating back more than 100 years to the late 1890s when it was a rail yard and locomotive workshop used by the Wilkes-Barre and Eastern Railroad. In 1939 the Katz family bought the abandoned property and operated a recycling center under the name D. Katz and Sons, which came to be known as the Katz scrapyard until it was sold in 2001 to John T. Smith, who changed the name to EDI Recycling and Salvage. The business collapsed under a tangle of bad debt and was foreclosed on by Unity Bank, Clinton, N.J.
In 2004 it was bought from the bank by Luigi Spagnolo, who operated APS Recycling there at 2 Katz Road. Spagnolo, who at the time said he had plans to plant trees along the property, hanged himself in a building on the property in 2009 and nothing ever came of those plans.
Weiss said the borough planted trees along the highway 20 or 25 years ago to hide the junkyard, but they didn't survive. .
"It’s very hard for trees to grow along the highway,” he said. “It just didn’t work.”
Over at the junkyard Tom Sobolewski, one of the workers at the site, said the company plans on employing 20 to 30 people, with the potential of 60 down the road. "We are everywhere," Sobolewski said, listing the states where the company does business. "We are the biggest catalytic processor on the East Coast."
As for what visitors driving to the Poconos can expect as they approach Stroudsburg from the west, Sobolewski said, "We'll be a junkyard, too, like the old place."