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Tire pile continues to vex Selectboard

PUTNEY—“It’s spring, and I’m sure we’re going to start hearing about the tire pile on [Old] Route 5 again,” Town Manager Cynthia Stoddard told the Selectboard at their March 23 regular meeting.

About a year ago, Stoddard and the Board discussed what to do about the pile of discarded tires, which, by some accounts, has been there at least four decades. [See “Town is concerned about pile of tires at Old Route 5 property,” Town & Village, May 13, 2015.]

In the year since, estimates of the number of tires keep increasing as town officials brave the steep trek into the hollow and find more tires.

“It’s a monster of a pile,” said Board Chair Josh Laughlin at the April 13 regular Selectboard meeting. Laughlin conducted a site visit in early April, causing him to boost his previous estimate of approximately 300 tires to at least 1,000.

They’re not done counting.

Enlisting the ANR

Getting the state’s Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) to address the issue has been a challenge. Stoddard said she contacted the agency last year but got no response.

In mid-April, Stoddard told Board members she contacted the ANR again about the tire pile.

“They don’t seem too concerned about it,” she said, adding, “because it’s not near a stream.”

“It’s in a stream,” Laughlin said.

Stoddard finally got through.

On April 28, ANR representatives examined the pile and afterwards met with Stoddard and Laughlin. Stoddard told The Commons that ANR will soon provide a more accurate tire count, including the cost of removing them.

“The town isn’t required to do anything, the state is not required to do anything, nobody — including the property owners — is required to do anything,” about cleaning up the tire pile, Stoddard said ANR officials told her.

Because the pile was there before the current landowners bought the property that the pile straddles, the state doesn’t hold them responsible, Stoddard said.

Barb Schwendtner, solid waste compliance chief with the ANR, confirmed this.

She characterized enforcing clean-up of the tire pile as “murky” and “a gray area” because the pile is too old and sits on land owned by more than one entity.

“When something pre-dates our laws and rules, if there’s no hazardous materials issues, there is no law to enforce any requirements for clean-up,” Schwendtner told The Commons.

Unfortunately, there is also no state funding for cleaning up the mess. Schwendtner said there is a solid waste fund, but old piles of tires are not high on the list of environmental clean-up priorities.

Plus, she said, the stipulations of that fund demand the state direct the property owner to clean up the pile, then get reimbursed for it.

“Tire piles [in the state] have been a real problem for a long time,” Schwendtner said.

What Stoddard told The Commons she wants to focus on now, and which may provide an easier, more immediate answer, is discovering who continues to add to the pile, as more recent dumping is evident.

Get them out or cover them up?

The task of deciding what to do about the tire pile rests with the Selectboard and the townspeople, Stoddard said. It won’t be an easy decision.

“It’s going to be pricey,” Stoddard said.

At a recent Selectboard meeting, Board members, Stoddard, and Highway Superintendent Brian Harlow discussed the challenge of getting the tires out of the steep, deep hollow.

The task is complicated by the elevation drop, the wooded terrain, and the fact that some tires are buried. Suggestions included using an excavator and a winch.

Harlow cautioned Board members about the possible erosion problem once the tires are removed. He said the bank would likely need to be stabilized.

Board Clerk Steve Hed offered an idea: “Why not just cover it and grow stuff on top of it?”

“Who knows what’s under those tires,” Harlow said.

Hed supplied a theory: “Maybe there’s a fortune under there.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #355 (Wednesday, May 4, 2016). This story appeared on page D1.

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