From jail to junk removal: a tale of dreams, love and property law

After getting out of jail, Len McGinnis decided to invest his time and money in a Porter Creek property that doesn’t belong to him.

After getting out of jail, Len McGinnis decided to invest his time and money in a Porter Creek property that doesn’t belong to him.

Over the last three months, he’s rented heavy equipment and removed dozens of cars and tons of scrap from Backcountry Corners, at 92038 Alaska Highway, across from the Rabbit’s Foot Canyon entrance to Porter Creek.

McGinnis claims to have spent tens of thousands of dollars of his own money in the process.

The only thing he wants in return is for the owner of the 2,700-square-metre property, Jacine Fox, to give him the land title so he can start an auto body shop there.

“We’ve (he and girlfriend Nicole Lamb) removed 80 tonnes of scrap and garbage,” said McGinnis, taking a break on his Bobcat excavator on Tuesday.

“There’s probably another 30 to 40 tonnes left that will have to be removed at a considerable cost.

“I’ve taken out, like, 130 cars.”

The situation at Backcountry Corners is a little complicated.

Bylaw officers have listed the country-residential property, which is strewn with cars, leaky oil patches, a pair of dilapidated houses, several trailers, and scores of machine parts, as a hazard that must cleaned up.

The property has an appraised value of $29,000, but the city has pegged clean-up costs at between $25,000 and $50,000.

Fox never hired McGinnis and isn’t renting him the motor home or shack he’s staying in on her property.

And, over the past few years, it’s been hard to nail down who is actually legally responsible for cleaning up the mess because the name on the land title keeps changing.

The property was Murray Freeman’s, a former junk collector who allowed people to leave their vehicles and machine waste on the property over a period of 17 years.

It became Fox’s after Freeman signed the title over to her in 2006, the same year the city got a court order that would have forced Freeman to clean up the mess.

Over 10 years ago, the city started demanding Freeman clean up.

But Freeman wasn’t making enough money as a junk dealer to pay for it, he said on Tuesday.

Freeman gave Fox the property in 2006 because he “was tired of it.”

He’s not sure how Fox feels about McGinnis living and working on her property — she no longer returns Freeman’s phone calls.

But, those details don’t bother McGinnis.

After making some poor choices and doing time recently, a topic he didn’t want to elaborate on, McGinnis is turning his life around.

And it’s all starting at Backcountry Corners, he said.

“Maybe Jacine (Fox) will pay me, and if not, then she better sign over the title. Well, she should sign over the title, I should say.

“Either pay the bill or sign the title.”

So far, he estimates the project has cost him $180,000 in labour, equipment rentals and dump fees.

That figure will likely hit $250,000 before the job is done, he said.

“Everything is calculated, right down to the hour.”

He started doing the clean up as a favour to Freeman; in exchange Freeman was going to help him legally secure the property, said McGinnis.

“(Freeman) was in a bind. He had 100-plus vehicles and the city was about to put the squash on him, so I did him a favour,” he said.

“In exchange he’s going to help me with any situations in court, legal situations.

“He’s been here forever. He knows how to play shadow games really good.”

Lamb is proud of her boyfriend. He’s come a long way since getting out of jail, she said.

“He got out with one vehicle, now we’re up to 15 vehicles and a big property, which is good.

“It’s a big change for him. I’m even shocked.”

She’s really looking forward to McGinnis starting his business, added Lamb.

Opening an auto-body shop at Backcountry Corners may not be as easy as erecting a building and hanging a shingle, said Pat Ross, the city’s subdivision and lands co-ordinator.

The property is zoned country residential, so there would have to be a zoning change and a change to the city’s Official Community Plan before a shop could be set up, he said.

Also, the practice of having activities on the property extend into the environmentally protected area it borders would have to stop, added Ross.

“We’ve had that discussion with (McGinnis).”

The property owner would also require a business licence, said Ross.

Freeman previously had a business licence but hasn’t had one for five years, said city bylaw manager John Taylor.

But, business licences are not the main concern at the moment.

Neither is the answer to the question of whether Fox should be made aware that McGinnis is living on her property and cleaning it up.

That’s not the business of the bylaw department, said Taylor.

“All we’re concerned with is that the property is cleaned up,” he said, explaining that Backcountry Corners was in violation of the city’s maintenance bylaw.

Taylor presented his plan for clean up to city council on Monday. The plan is to allow McGinnis to continue cleaning up the property.

But if work stops, Kearah Environmental Contracting Inc. will finish it and the estimated $25,000 to $50,000 bill will be sent to Fox, he said.

Fox could not be reached for comment.