More than that, Padgett wants a slew of questions answered following the revelation last week that as many as 1,000 waste tires from an illegal dump above Cow Creek had been washed into the Uncompahgre River during a thunderstorm on July 26. Will the state investigation now underway address just the river, or the private lands where the tires came from, or both? What kind of mitigation plan will be proposed? Does the Army Corps of Engineers have jurisdiction in this case? Does the EPA, through the Clean Water Act?
“The most common question I’ve been getting,” Padgett said, “is ‘Are there going to be fines?’”
Padgett and the rest of the BOCC are not likely to hear from the state Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) on their investigation into the “tire flood” by the time of their next meeting on Aug. 23, according to CDPHE Public Relations Officer Jeannine Natterman. But Natterman did have a few answers for The Watch in a telephone interview.
The state’s Jeff Emmons, from the CDPHE Grand Junction office, “did get out there to the site on Friday (Aug. 12). He is preparing his inspection report now.” The visit, Natterman said, indicated a situation “clearly inconsistent with regulations on the disposal of waste tires. The disposing and burying of tires on the Gunn property has been going on for 10 to 15 years.”
Natterman said unequivocally, “Mr. Gunn will be responsible for cleanup, for two reasons: for having an illegal dump, and for the release of those tires from his property. He is being cooperative; he let us onto his property to investigate.”
Commissioner Padgett is hoping to hear from Ouray County Sheriff Dominic “Junior” Mattivi by next Tuesday on his own investigation. “A local ordinance was clearly violated,” Padgett said. “And county zoning regulations were clearly violated. I would like the Sheriff to give us an update at our next meeting. And I’m thinking of proposing the BOCC take a float trip later in the season, at low water, to see for ourselves” the extent of the problem.
The casual, or illegal dumping of tires is not new, of course. From backyards to drainage ditches to out-of-the-way arroyos on public lands, treadbare but otherwise indestructible used tires have been a disposal problem for over a century. (Tires may take centuries more to break down in a landfill.) A presentation co-authored by the Colorado Waste Tire Advisory Committee and the Rubber Manufacturers Association estimates that there are 100 million waste tires in Colorado. And that in America consumers generate on average one waste tire per person each year.
I asked Nick Boudreau, a Waste Tire Specialist with the CDPHE, for a description of the life cycle of a discarded tire in Colorado.
“In a perfect scenario,” Boudreau began, admitting that the system is far from perfect, “you go buy four new tires at your tire dealer, and he takes your four used tires plus $1.50 each for the state Department of Revenue.
“At this point the retailer is generating waste and must register under our Solid Waste Materials Program.” (I counted over 1,000 registered retailers on the CDPHE website, nine Big-O stores, 65 Wal-Marts.)
The retailer must use a registered waste tire hauler, Boudreau said. (I counted 50 registered haulers in the state, seven of them on the Western Slope: in Loma, Silt, Austin, Snowmass, Olathe, Durango and Pagosa Springs.)
The tires can then go one of three places: to a collection facility, a processor, or a monofill. Collection facilities are a kind of intermediary storage until a further destination is found. (Of 16 registered collection facilities in the state I found just one on the Western Slope, in Grand Junction.) Monofills (there are three listed, all on the eastern plains) are essentially landfills with tires in them. Processors (there are seven of these) shred waste tires for some end use: it might be for fuel, or rubberized playgrounds or ball fields. CDOT is experimenting with mixing recycled tires in with asphalt; the results are still pending.
There are only two end-users registered on the CDPHE site. One is a cement plant in Florence, Colo., which burns the shredded rubber in its manufacturing process.
“In the real world,” Boudreau said, “tires end up in ditches and back properties.”
That’s the way it’s been. But with new legislation in 2009 and 2010, the state is trying to change perceptions, and practice. The goal, according to Boudreau, is to be able to track every waste tire in Colorado. And to develop bigger end-user markets for recycled products. And educate consumers and retailers so that disasters like the Ouray County tire flood aren’t repeated.
Of the coming cleanup on the Uncompahgre, the CDPHE’s Natterman said, “The priority is to get the tires out of the river as soon as possible. If Mr. Gunn and his family decide to remove the tires themselves, they would have to understand that those waste tires are now in the official waste disposal stream, and that they’d have to use registered haulers, and so on.”