The Original Recyclers

Brightwater Site – Grace, Washington

Straw man preface statement:

The population of South Snohomish and North King County was growing by leaps and bounds in the early 2000's. At the same time, there was growing evidence that population growth was outstripping our ability to provide the necessary goods and services to ensure the sustainability of the once pristine area.

This evidence, coupled with a growing environmental awareness, akin to the level of the 1960's, caused a heightened interest in the siting of wastewater facility in an area formerly known as the Town of Grace. Citizens were naturally concerned, and some were alarmed, at the prospect of such a huge capital improvement project being placed in their backyards.

Some people felt that this was an improvement over the numerous auto reclaim faciliies in this area, but the truth is often far from initial impression. This ..................on and on etc....


The history of the entire Woodinville / Grace area is documented in some detail by the Woodinville Historical Society.  In addition, Terry Jarvis has accumulated a large amount of detail and several early pictures of the area in his pursuit of the history of Grace. In 1993 he became very serious about this and “re-established” the Town of Grace. While there has been much humor associated with this “Town” and the Grace Gazette, the publicity has resulted in a lot of historical data. My account of the history is really from the mid 1960’s to the time Brightwater elected to use this area for a major waste water treatment plant.

Early habitation of the area was obviously encouraged because of the transportation “highway” provided by the Sammamish River, which most of us know as “the Slough”.  This allowed early settlers, and the native Americans before them, to live and work in the area and still get to larger population centers, like Seattle.  As a boy who grew up in Bothell (1946 to 1952) and Kenmore (1952 to 2008) I remember the many activities on the Slough.  We routinely used it for water skiing because it was calm.  We canoed and took small boats up and down, exploring the estuaries at the mouth and the tributaries like Little Bear Creek.  I camped where the 405 intersection now exists, and skinny dipped in the Slough with my friends.  In the spring I was an enthusiastic fan of the hydroplane races up the Slough and the water ski races which occurred one or two weeks later.  I participated in three of the water ski races, both as a skier and as a boat driver.  Woodinville, at this time, was a small settlement in the country with the largest identifying landmark in my memory being a rodeo ground.

At first, the topography and resources determined the nature of the area uses.  Logging was a major industry, with at least three dry-land saw mills operating.  Once the timber was cleared, farming and cattle became more common.  The area was remote enough that some bootlegging was also common.  Later, urban planning determined some of the uses, including the auto salvage industry, and the limited industrial development that exists today, as well as the growth of wineries in the area.  Finally, the growth of population in the area encouraged more and more retail and services to develop into what we now see in Woodinville.

In 1966, I was the third generation to join our family business (Fitz Auto Parts).  In 1969, when we realized that we would need to move in order to accomplish our business goals, my father assigned me the task of locating a new site, since I had acquired a real estate license in 1967. Auto wrecking, later called auto recycling, required heavy industrial (HI) zoned land. I researched the areas zoned for our business and found there were remarkably few areas that were suitable.  But, there were several parcels in the Grace area that were zoned HI and remained as basically vacant land.  This zoning, coupled with the good highway access provided by Hwy 9 and Hwy 522, offered the best combination of HI use and retail exposure that I could find.  It was just what our business required.  In addition, I had a friend, Terry Jarvis, who live there, and operated his Vintage Auto Parts business there.  He encouraged me to come to the area. The fact that the rail line existed also offered potential that appealed to some industry.  I thought we could possible make use of it also, but we did not.

We purchased our first site in the Grace area in 1969.  It is the current location of Costco.  We bought ten acres there for $150,000 from a group of speculators who had purchased it from Loma Linda University.  The university acquired it as a bequest from an estate.  While this sounds inexpensive in today’s terms, it was a lot of money for us at the time.  We were able to pay 10% as down payment and signed a ten year contract for the balance, but we had to borrow from three sources to build the required fencing and a small 30 by 48 foot building to use as a retail store.  We actually opened up temporarily in a salvaged mobile home (that had suffered a small fire) while we built our first building.

The speculators who sold us the land, reserved a 1/2 acre parcel at the intersection of Hwy 9 and the off-ramp from 522, for a future gas station.  However, it later became apparent that this was not enough land for that purpose and they sold it to us for another $22,000.  Originally people thought we were moving our business way out in the country, but they soon found that we were easy to get to and had a significant increase in inventory due to the larger area we occupied.  As our business grew and we became familiar with the area we bought more property, which included 5 acres across Hwy 9 from Costco, approximately 7 acres across Hwy 522, now occupied by Alpine Tire Retreaders and Cedar Grove Compost, and a 4-acre parcel which we bought with the Jarvis family.  We also bought four parcels totaling 16 acres north of the intersection.  (This 16 acres is land that was ultimately purchased by Brightwater.)  Most of this land was zoned HI, but some was zoned light industry (LI), which required a conditional use permit for our industry to operate.

At one time we operated five branches of our business in this area, each one specializing in a product line.  They were called Fitz GM, Fitz Ford, Fitz European, Fitz Japanese, and Fitz Chrylser.  We also had a warehouse division that sold new aftermarket products and a core division that provided parts to the rebuilding industry.  The rebuilding industry requires a basic part to start the process.  They then disassemble the parts, refurbish them, and add the necessary new parts to qualify the units as a re-built part.  These included everything from engines, transmissions and gear boxes, to starters, alternators, and brake parts.  We sold these to the authorized Ford and GM and Chrysler factory rebuilders, as well as many independents.  There were five other auto and truck recyclers operating in the area too.

The auto recycling industry was one of the original recyclers.  World War II gave the industry some importance because the need for scrap metals to fuel the war machine was so great.  It was a mixed blessing for the industry because it made salvage hard to find, especially when automobile production was suspended for a time to devote the industrial capacity to the war.  After the war, when the auto industry grew, the need for used parts also grew.  People were not thinking about recycling as we think of it today, but they were using it because it made economic sense.  Auto recyclers sold what they could to the wholesale (body shops and mechanical repair shops) and retail trade and then processed the rest of the vehicle for scrap.  Very little was wasted.

Later, as the environmental awareness grew, and recycling became a buzzword, the industry was well positioned to take advantage of this new trend.  Astute operators began recovering every possible item, partly to take advantage of the sales opportunity and partly to protect their valuable real estate from any environmental damage.  Fitz Auto Parts was a leader in this trend.  When a vehicle was purchased and towed into the appropriate specialized location it was first inventoried and the parts put into the computer.  Then the engine was started and graded.  After this, the oil was drained from the engine and transmission.  This bulk oil was sold as bunker fuel for ships, which can use low grade oils for their engines.  Some oil refineries also purchased this used oil. There was once a refinery in Grace called Superior Oil Refinery. The antifreeze was drained and saved for sale to used car lots, who would buy it by the 55-gallon barrel for use in their used cars.  Batteries were removed, tested, and re-charged for sale, if they were good.  If they were damaged or otherwise not good for resale they were stored in waterproof plastic bins for sale as lead.  Gasoline and diesel fuel were removed and used in the recycler’s own equipment. Engines and transmissions were then removed and stored inside to protect them from the weather and prevent any soil contamination. In the case of Fitz Auto Parts, not enough buildings existed to accommodate the storage, so shipping containers, with racks inside were used. The processed vehicles were taken to the appropriate row in the storage yard with nothing left to drip or leak.  Parts were then removed on demand.  Some operations in the industry actually pre-dismantled the entire vehicle and had little or no processed vehicles stored on their premises.  These operations typically existed in areas with very high priced land.

As real estate values in the Woodinville / Grace area grew, the auto recycling operations could no longer justify their use of the expensive real estate.  In 2000 Fitz Auto Parts sold it’s auto parts operations to GreenLeaf, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ford Motor Co.  The Fitzpatricks retained the real estate and made the conscious change to developing their real estate interests, after 70 years of family operation of the auto parts business.  Today, there are no auto recycling operations left in the Grace area, but there is one scrap metal operation, which is an important part of the recycling chain.  Also Alpine Tire Retreaders is an important form of recycling that still exists in the area.  And, Waste Management operates a sophisticated recycling plant in the area. The land use has changed to industries that can support higher value land, such as Costco or public use facilities like Brightwater.  Locating a salvage operation is very difficult.  It is a NIMBY (not in my backyard) industry.  People usually appreciate what it does but still do not want the operations near them.  Finding and developing suitably zoned property is very difficult and expensive.  When Brightwater purchased the land from the Fitzpatricks, GreenLeaf elected to liquidate the operation rather than go through the difficult process of relocating.

Brightwater is becoming a leader in the environmental effort and educating the public about current recycling efforts……



FOTHR © 2009