OURAY COUNTY – A flash flood that washed as many as 1,000 tires from an illegal dump into Cow Creek and eventually the Uncompahgre River is being investigated by Ouray County Sheriff Dominic “Junior” Mattivi and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
On Tuesday, Aug. 9, the Ouray County Board of Commissioners heard from Mattivi that the tires came from property on County Road 4 owned by longtime resident Butch Gunn. Mattivi also said that the tires likely came to Gunn's property from Maynes Tire in Montrose. Commissioner Lynn Padgett reported that witnesses have come forward saying they’ve observed Maynes trucks hauling waste tires into Ouray County some time.
An intense thunderstorm on Tuesday, July 26, washed the tires – everything from ATV tires to giant tractor tires – down off the Gunn property into Burro Creek and from there into Cow Creek above its confluence with the Uncompahgre River, just downstream of the reservoir dam.
Contacted on Wednesday, Keith Maynes said, “The whole of it is, we’ve given tires to everybody up through there. What they do with them, I don’t know. For haystacks? Retaining walls? To say they are mine, I don’t think they can point a finger at me. We’re not the only tire store in town. I imagine we all do the same – give away a lot of tires. A lot of people are doing a lot of talking, but this was an act of God.”
Butch Gunn could not be reached for comment.
Residents and boaters noticed the tires, “a river of tires,” according to one witness watching from the Billy Creek Bridge, on the afternoon of July 26.
Mattivi said he had been in contact with Dave Hale of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, who walked the scene of the flood and counted “300-400 tires in Burro Creek and 300-400 tires in Cow Creek.”
“There’s close to a thousand tires that have washed down. There’s tires from here to Lake Powell,” Mattivi joked.
The commissioners were not amused.
Adding to the intrigue, Mattivi said that he had just returned from a helicopter flight over the area – “on a marijuana eradication mission” – and observed a bulldozer on the Gunn property “burying the [remaining] tires as we speak.” Mattivi said, “Maynes Tire has offered to voluntarily clean up the area,” but that a call in to owner Keith Maynes had not yet been returned.
Reacting to what seemed like a tepid response on the part of the Sheriff’s Office to the two-week-old event, Commission Chair Heidi Albritton sputtered, “Isn’t this criminal, Junior? I can’t form my words, I’m so mad.”
“Well, it’s private property,” Mattivi answered. “I believe it started out as erosion control.”
Private property has got nothing to do with it, countered Padgett. “First, there’s a county ordinance against any kind of landfill. And, it’s against state law regarding hazardous waste disposal, solid waste disposal. I’ve just emailed you, Junior, Section 10 of the state regs on waste tire dumping.
“This is very serious,” Padgett continued. “Petroleum products that are highly flammable. If there were to be a lightning strike on that dump . . . Tire fires cannot be put out. You can see examples online. I can’t even imagine estimating the cost to the county for fighting something like that.”
Albritton asked Mattivi, “Are you doing an investigation now? Have you been in contact with CDPHE [the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment]?”
The Sheriff said he had been in touch with the Division of Wildlife, and State Parks. He hadn’t yet contacted CDPHE.
Padgett allowed that the Environmental Protection Agency might also “play into this. This is surely a violation under the Clean Water Act.”
“As much as I hesitate bringing the federal government in, I would have to agree,” Albritton said.
“This bulldozing, this is a covering up of evidence,” Padgett fumed. “Seems like there should be a cease and desist order.”
“We just flew that today,” Mattivi responded. “We should contact Maynes and Gunn to quit. Then we’ll get these other people involved with it.”
Padgett had already done some research and suggested Mattivi contact Jeff Emmons, in Grand Junction, with the compliance assurance unit of CDPHE.
“We’ve got to be doing the right thing here,” she said. “They [Maynes] were collecting state-mandated disposal fees and then hauling the tires to our county and dumping them.”
Albritton concluded the discussion saying, “I feel like our board should be calling CDPHE ourselves.”
The Watch talked with Jeff Emmons later on Tuesday. He said he had been contacted by both the Sheriff’s Office and the commissioners regarding the tire flood. Beyond that, he could say only that the state does “have regulations regarding the hauling and disposal of waste tires that may be applicable in this instance.”
On Wednesday morning, public health officials with both Ouray and Montrose counties were scheduled to visit the site.
The problem of cleanup – who will do it and who will pay for it – was not discussed at Tuesday’s commissioner meeting. Local rafters have already begun an unofficial cleanup, stacking some tires along the river banks.