By Susan Montoya Bryan
The Associated Press
Officials at the State Land Office have been busy reviewing records and charting a legal strategy as they consider what to do about a massive tire dump that stretches through a remote arroyo in northeastern New Mexico.
Land Commissioner Ray Powell said his office expects to have a plan in place soon for dealing with the thousands of tires that are filling the dry wash. Powell was alerted to the tire dump by Albuquerque television station KRQE.
The black swath of tires can be seen from the air miles away. Piled on top of one another, the tires fill in about three-quarters of a mile on state trust land.
“I am determined the people who have done this need to clean it up,” Powell told The Associated Press in a phone interview last week. “It’s going to be expensive, and I don’t want the burden to fall on our taxpayers or siphon money away that should be going to education. There’s just absolutely no rational reason to have done this. It just makes me sick. It makes me very, very angry.”
The tires have been dumped in the arroyo over several years by Harold Daniels, a Mora County rancher and owner of the Northeast New Mexico Regional Landfill near Wagon Mound. The phone at the landfill went unanswered Wednesday, but Daniels had told KRQE that he diverted tires from the landfill to the arroyo as part of an effort to control erosion.
“With the blessing of the Environment Department, we started that project down there,” Daniels told the station. “It’s not a tire dump. It’s an erosion control project.”
The New Mexico Environment Department did in fact sanction the project years ago.
Photos of the site from 2006 show tires carefully placed flat on the ground at the head of an eroded area. The tires had silted in and grass was growing.
Auralie Ashley-Marx, head of the department’s solid waste bureau, said Daniels abandoned the placement method and just started throwing more tires in the arroyo from the back of pickup trucks. The arroyo is now nearly filled despite the department sending letters to Daniels telling him not to bring in any more tires.
Ashley-Marx said the department learned just two weeks ago that more tires had been delivered to the site.
Daniels has submitted engineering documents to the department explaining why the tires are a legitimate form of erosion control. Those documents are being reviewed, Ashley-Marx said.
The solid waste bureau said it wasn’t until 2008 that the bureau and Daniels learned the tires were on state trust land. The bureau informed the previous administration at the Land Office in 2009.
“Our goal is to try to resolve this by getting voluntary compliance first. If that can’t happen, then we have to go to enforcement, but we’re hoping that some successful resolution of this problem can be figured out and completed within a reasonable amount of time,” Ashley-Marx said.
Powell promised his office would be aggressive about making sure the tires get cleaned up.
“We’re gathering all the information that we have and putting it together. We’re trying to be thorough in figuring out who is responsible and what may have transpired,” Powell said.
Proper tire management is a problem in New Mexico, Ashley-Marx said. Each year the state offers grants to local governments and tribal entities to help with tire cleanup projects. This year the grants totaled $400,000.
The bureau has recorded instances of individuals and even some tire haulers illegally dumping tires. However, there are legitimate uses for scrap tires that include agricultural operations using them to secure tarps and to build livestock corrals.