Tire pile in Oak Creek Canyon elicits environmental complaints
November 21, 2013
Steamboat Springs — A pile of tires along Colorado Highway 131 between Oak Creek and Steamboat Springs has elicited from a South Routt resident complaints that now are working their way back up to the state level.
For decades, Routt County had been involved in a dispute with Tom Cole about a junkyard that sat on 1.5 acres along Routt County Road 7 on the way to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
Among other things, the junkyard held thousands of old tires.
In August, Noreen Moore bought from Cole the property and the cottage that was built in 1935, and she has been working to clean the area.
Saw Wisecup was hired by Moore to cut the tires and haul them to the landfill in Milner.
Whole tires can't be dumped at the landfill because they will rise to the top if buried, according to Mike Zopf, director of Environmental Health for Routt County.
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Wisecup has been bringing some of the tires from the junkyard Moore purchased to a piece of land near the creek in Oak Creek Canyon that has been leased by Wisecup's family member.
Maynard Short, a Phippsburg resident, has alerted the county and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to potential environmental risks from storing the tires so close to the creek.
On Thursday, Wisecup said he had not been contacted about the complaints.
Bringing the tires to the spot in Oak Creek Canyon provides more space to cut them, he said, and is easier to access than the cluttered junkyard south of Yampa as well as being closer to his home.
Wisecup estimates he's processed 5,000 tires. Cutting thousands of tires took a toll on his shoulder, he said, but he was back at it early Thursday after taking some time to heal.
Moore said she had emailed the county to keep them informed of Wisecup’s progress.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the potential hazards of storing tires near the creek include tire fires and providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes and rats, Zopf said.
Tire fires are hard to extinguish, Zopf said, and the emissions can be toxic. The water that can collect in tires during the spring provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which can carry diseases, he said.
Zopf also said a 2011 regulation requires people transporting 10 or more waste tires at a time to register with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said multiple county departments including legal staff are aware of the situation and working to remedy it. The county also alerted the state health department. However, the county doesn't want to throw a wrench into the process of disposing of the tires that have been part of an ongoing issue since the 1970s, Monger said.
"We're very aware and trying to see what we could do," he said.
"These tires have been around for 40 years," Wisecup said. Instead of whining about the process to dispose of them, he said, the county and residents should find a way to make it easier to recycle tires.
Monger said the goal is to not have the problem tires simply moved from one location to another. Moore and Wisecup said there are no plans to store any tires at the location near the creek in the long term.
Wisecup said he should have all the tires processed in about a month, but if he is told to move the tires before then, he'll probably build a fence with the tires somewhere else.
At the junkyard, Moore said, she will continue to clean the property, and Cole should be back during the summer to help.
Moore said she plans to remodel the cabin on the land that now sits as an island amid large ranch tracts.
"I've always wanted to live here," she said about the spot on the edge of the Flat Tops’ stunning scenery. "It's like sacred ground for me."