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July 05, 2012

Don't Tread on VT: State Conducts First-Ever Survey to Identify "Problem" Tire Piles

Dreamstime_xl_19121958Got tires? No, not that set of four bald radials gathering dust in your garage. We're talking about big, eyesore-sized tires piles, the kind that spawn mosquitoes, become nesting grounds for snakes and rodents, block out the sunlight and — worse-case scenario — can potentially catch fire and take firefighters weeks to extinguish.

If you've got one of those tire piles — or more likely, know of a neighbor who does — the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources wants to hear about it.

A bill signed into law earlier this year requires ANR to inventory problem tire piles around the state and then estimate the cost and time required to get rid of them. The law was prompted by a years-long battle with the owner of an unmitigated tire pile in Milton and the desire to identify other problem piles around the state.

What does the state consider a "problem?" Any pile with 100 or more tires.

This week, ANR's solid waste management program launched a month-long survey to try to identify how many of these illegal or undocumented tire piles there are in the state. Once the survey is complete, the inventory, including the estimated number of tires and the projected cleanup cost, will be reported back to the Legislature when it reconvenes in January.

"There's always been this interest in scrap tires and whether it's a big problem. Some people seem to feel it is a problem, others don't," says James "Buzz" Surwilo in the solid waste management program. "So, this is an effort to finally answer that question."

Earlier in the legislative session, environmental lobbyists tried to get the tire legislation to impose additional fees on the purchase of new tires in order to pay for the cleanup of rogue tire piles, but lawmakers put the brakes on that idea. Instead, this year's legislation allows ANR  to disperse money from its solid waste management assistance fund as a "last resort" to getting these problem piles cleaned up. 

"Of course, people need to take responsibility for their own situations," Surwilo adds. "If we find illegal disposal of tires, or any other waste, it's really up to them to clean it up."

F-junkyarddog2Much of the public concern about scrap tires was sparked by the decades-old legal battle to force the closure and cleanup of Vermont's largest tire pile, which is in Milton. Gilbert "Gil" Rhoads, owner and operator of ABC Metals and Rhoads Salvage, has spent years fighting state officials and defying court orders to dispose of the estimated 200,000 tires on his property. In addition to the environmental and public-safety concerns about the pile, as well as decades of scrapyard salvage operations that have left the soil contaminated with heavy metals, Milton's fire chief has warned that if the tire pile ever caught fire, Vermont wouldn't have the firefighting equipment or expertise to put it out.

Rhoads is due back in court July 10 on a contempt of court charge, according to Barb Schwendtner in the solid waste program. Previously, a judge issued Rhoads an order to clean up the tires within 90 days and conduct a lead soil contamination study and clean up whatever is necessary; he failed to do both. Simultaneously, next week the solid waste program will begin removal of $75,000 worth of scrap tires — or about 82,000 tires — all on the state's dime. "So, it'll be a dent," Schwendtner says, "but no where near the whole pile."

How many other tire piles are believed to be cluttering up the Green Mountain State? Surwilo says that the state probably already knows about the biggest ones, most of which can be found at auto and scrap metal yards.

"I'd be surprised if we find these huge, well-hidden, clandestine tire piles that nobody has reported to us in the past," he says. "I think we may find a few hundred or a few thousand in the woods somewhere...But we really have no idea what we're going to find."

ANR's online survey, which runs through July 30, can be found here. If you prefer to fill out a paper or phone survey, call (802) 479-8744.

Photos by Robflint/ and SEVEN DAYS file.

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