Cleaning up a notorious tire dump in Calhoun County has been a larger task than some expected.
Discovered more than three years ago and said to be visible from space, the illegal tire dump made the news from Great Britain to Florida as South Carolina regulators scrambled to find the culprit and devise a cleanup plan for the site.
But the property still is not cleaned up – and the mess created in Calhoun County is part of the reason government regulators are trying to tighten rules on illegal tire dumping in a state that produces more than 4 million waste tires a year.
South Carolina, which interestingly is increasingly attracting tire manufacturers, has no foolproof way to keep track of waste tires or the people who haul them away from businesses, such as automobile service shops, officials say.
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The state’s waste-tire tracking system would be toughened under a plan by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. The rules would look more closely at haulers through stricter paperwork and bonding requirements.
That could help prevent dumps like the one in Calhoun County, regulators say.
At the dump site, near Elloree, the cleanup is proving problematic because it involves more than just hauling away waste tires, according to a solid-waste management agency coordinating the work.
One side of the property contains wetlands that make it difficult for heavy trucks to navigate, said Tim Fox, general manager of the Three Rivers Solid Waste Authority.
On the other side of the tire dump are a half-dozen private landowners who must give permission for heavy machinery to cross their land to get to the tires, he said. Crossing the property could require cutting trees and widening a small road, Fox said.
The property targeted for cleanup is in a rural area about 50 miles south of Columbia.
“Typically, when you clean up a big tire pile, you want to get in and expedite the cleanup with tractor trailers and larger equipment – but this site makes that difficult,” he said. “This thing is complicated.”
Martin Banks, an attorney well familiar with the illegal dump site, questioned whether the cleanup is as difficult as Three Rivers maintains and why it isn’t complete. At one point three years ago, a company was taking some of the tires away from Calhoun County.
“How hard can it be to get a trackhoe and grab tires and throw them on a truck?” Banks asked.
Fox’s agency, a regional solid waste department, is trying to hire a contractor to conduct the cleanup. The plan is to remove the tires by mid-June, although that date could be in jeopardy if logistical questions can’t be resolved.
Fox said his agency became involved in the cleanup efforts about one year ago on behalf of Calhoun County. He said he was not sure what happened with any cleanup plan before his agency was brought in. His agency already has coordinated several smaller tire cleanups in the area, he said.
The names of the landowners adjacent to the big dump were not available late last week, but Three Rivers and DHEC said the cleanup is important to protect the landscape and people’s health.
“It is critical that the contractor recognize that time is of the essence in completing the work,” according to Three Rivers’ invitation for bids for the cleanup at the site.
Tire dumps attract rats and mosquitoes, in addition to creating fire hazards. When unsightly tire piles go up in smoke, contaminants in the burning material can run off into creeks and groundwater, according to DHEC.
DHEC is providing about $500,000 in public money to the Three Rivers Solid Waste Authority to coordinate the cleanup. The tires would be sent to approved DHEC recycling centers, which often shred tires for use in playgrounds.
The tire pile – estimated by the authority to contain as many as 1 million waste wheels – is one of several in the area tied to a hauler who later was criminally charged and sentenced to prison, records show. The dumping occurred in 2010, then again in 2012 after the dump was discovered, according to criminal warrants obtained by The State newspaper.
Records released by DHEC show that George Fontella Brown admitted in court to a series of illegal dumping charges in Calhoun County. Court records show that he was sentenced to spend at least seven months in prison on some charges.
Tires came from “various businesses throughout South Carolina,” according to a witness account cited in a DHEC investigative report. Brown said in the investigative report that he never illegally dumped tires there, but witness accounts disputed that.
Files released by DHEC show that Brown also ran into trouble in Pickens County over solid waste management violations.
Banks, who represented Brown in court, said his client violated the law, but never intended to leave tires on the property. He had been hired by businesses to haul the tires away, but a company he was selling them to stopped taking the tires – and that left Brown in a lurch, Banks said.
Meanwhile, Kent Coleman, mining and solid waste director at the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, said the Calhoun County site is an example of the larger problem of illegal tire dumping in South Carolina.
New regulations proposed by DHEC would fill gaps in the state’s existing solid waste disposal law. Existing rules to track waste tires are legally questionable, agency officials said.
The new rules would allow the state to more tightly track who handles waste tires. Anyone hauling more than 15 tires would have to register with DHEC. Tire-hauling companies also would have to post a $10,000 bond to assure any messes they make are cleaned up.
Coleman’s efforts have the attention of DHEC board member Kenyon Wells, who said he’s encountered the problem of tire dumping first hand. Someone secretly left waste tires in a creek on his farm, the Lexington County resident said.
“We’re trying to make it harder” to dump tires illegally, Coleman said.