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June 3: The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner says let the fund-raisers wash cars

Posted: Monday, June 04, 2001

We recently heard from a reader who was upset about the state's failure to enforce the law regarding car wash fund-raisers.

The individual, who professed to have no commercial interest in such things, insisted that state and federal laws governing wastewater discharge are being trampled by these volunteer-run activities taking place from time to time on parking lots around town. Why, he wanted to know, weren't we doing something about it?

We have a hard time seeing the harm in a few suds soaking the pavement on a given Saturday or Sunday afternoon, particularly when cars and trucks are being recruited to take part on behalf of a good cause. For the record, News-Miner employees have been known to hose down cars out back -- on what's generally an unseasonably chilly day -- raising a few bucks for the local March of Dimes chapter.

Are laws being broken? Could it be that local scouts, high school sports clubs and other nonprofits engaging in car wash fund-raisers are, in fact, environmental outlaws?

We contacted the state's Department of Environmental Conservation. The relevant statutes were written with commercial operations in mind, the News-Miner was told. At most, the applicable state laws could be said to require groups staging car wash fund-raisers to seek a permit for the planned activity.

''We have the authority to waive that permit, and I'm sure we would,'' observed Pete McGee, a longtime watershed management official at DEC's Fairbanks office.

The department does recommend that car wash fund-raisers take place on paved parking lots, with no direct contact with streams and lakes. ''Most of the traditional sites found in and around the Fairbanks area pose little risk to surface water or groundwater,'' another DEC official wrote in a letter published in this newspaper a few years ago.

It's not uncommon, apparently, for commercial car wash operators to complain about the fund-raisers. That's understandable. An argument can certainly be made that the dollars raised through these occasional volunteer scrub-lines might otherwise land in the car wash owners' pockets.

But we don't buy it. The fund-raisers attract more than their share of parents, alumni and other supporters with more than a passing connection to the grinning faces manning those sponges and buckets. We daresay many of the participating drivers are less interested in departing in a gleaming vehicle, than they are in helping the organization involved.

No doubt somewhere in the mass of regulatory rules flowing from Washington, D.C., there's a paragraph or two imposing additional hurdles on the organizers of car wash fund-raisers. We don't know for sure, and we don't much care.

As we see it, there's a higher value served in assisting nonprofit groups, particularly those devoted to youth activities, whose members are willing to roll up their sleeves and help themselves.

We won't be part of any effort to shut off the hoses, and would encourage other parking lot owners to keep making space available for the volunteer scrubbing brigades of summer.

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