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A tiresome problem

El Paso County has a tire problem; or, more specifically, a tire recycling problem. Colorado Rep. Marsha Looper, District 19, estimates there are 32 tire dumps in El Paso County. Most, if not all, are in eastern El Paso County – and many are illegal.It’s not just El Paso County. A May 2009 report issued by the Rubber Manufacturers Association identified Colorado as one of seven states where 85 percent of scrap tires are stockpiled. Of those seven states, Colorado ranked third in overall waste tire tonnage, with 14.8 million tons.In addition to the tires generated by Coloradoans, according to a July 2009 Colorado Department of Health report; in 2008, Colorado imported 447,415 tires from other states.For several years now, anyone in Colorado who buys a tire for a nonfarm vehicle must pay a $1.50 recycling fee. The fee is used for loans to fund tire recycling projects and studies and reimbursements for processing, recycling and waste diversion activities.Why are tires sitting in dumps instead of being recycled?A big reason is a series of bankruptcies at Midway Landfill, a tire disposal and recycling facility in Fountain, Colo., on the west side of Interstate 25.”There have been two bankruptcies on that site, three operators and a lot of failed promises in the past,” said Mark Gebhart, land development code administrator for El Paso County.Gebhart said past operators of the dump originally planned to bury the tires, which would have made them impossible to recycle in the future.”One of the things about El Paso County is that it has a very good geologic structure for landfills. The shale is over 2,500 feet deep and is essentially a barrier to usable water,” he said.In 2008, Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua, a Mexican cement company, formed Colorado Energy Recyclers. In December 2008, CER bought Midway from bankruptcy court for $2 million, said Verne Stuessy, plant manager of Grupo Cementos de Chihuaha’s cement plant in Pueblo, Colo.Currently, energy to run the Pueblo GCC plant comes from coal mined in Durango and shipped to Pueblo, Stuessy said.We use a great deal of coal and the reason we purchased Midway was to substitute tires (for coal) and reduce the amount of coal we’re bringing up for our Durango mine,” he said.Stuessy said when GCC bought the 58-acre Midway tire dump 30 million tires had been dumped there since the facility opened in 1996.”Our first concern was safety and fire compliance,” he said, adding that GCC has spent about $1 million to bring the dump into compliance by organizing the tires into small mounds to prevent a fire from starting or spreading.El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark said she’s been told a tire fire at the Midway dump would burn for seven years, with toxic smoke emitted into the atmosphere.GCC has also built a metal fence around the facility to replace the bales of hay previously used as a fence, Stuessy said.”We should be able to use 100 tons of tire-derived fuel a day, seven days a week. That’s approximately 21 to 25,000 tons a year of TDF (tire-derived fuel). If there are 30 million tires on the property, it should last for approximately 10 years,” he said.Stuessy said GCC has applied for a modified air permit to allow the Pueblo cement plant to start burning shredded tires from the Midway tire dump. He expects the state to issue the permit by the middle of August.Then, GCC has to have an amendment to their special use plan that will allow the Pueblo facility to accept tire-derived fuel. Worst case, they’ll get that amendment in December.The exact time at which CER will start shredding tires for use at GCC’s Pueblo plant is dependent on the demand for cement.Stuessy said the Pueblo plant, built in 2006, was open in March this year, then closed for the month of April and plans to close again in November and December.CER currently has one full-time employee but that will change when operations ramp up in December.”Our first goal is to take that tire dump down to virtually nothing,” Stuessy said, adding that he expects CER to recycle between 2.5 and 3 million tires a year.GCC is also considering shipping CER-shredded tires to its other plants in Rapid City, S.D., Albuquerque, N.M. and even to their flagship plant in Chihuahua, Mexico.The company is also discussing the possibility of generating fuel from solid waste that could easily be obtained from Waste Management, which operates a solid waste dump next to the Midway tire dump.Between now and December, Stuessy said the dump can accept at no charge any tires the county might collect from other dumps, but it cannot accept tires from the public at this time.Whether tires could be recycled into asphalt material, as is done in Canada, Stuessy said members of the Asphalt Association are adamant that they do not like to use tires in their process.In January, CER and the El Paso County Board of Commissioners entered into a memorandum of understanding to jointly seek state and federal grants to recycle tires at some point, if desired.Looper is also running House Bill 10-1018 to advance tire recycling in Colorado by consolidating management of the $1.50 tire recycling fee on the purchase of a new tire under the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The bill also protects money in the fund from being used for other purposes and more closely regulates waste haulers.The House passed HB10-1018 March 23, and it was introduced in the Senate March 26, when it was assigned to the finance committee for a hearing in late April.County commissioner Jim Bensberg said Looper’s bill will “help us here in El Paso County to recycle and reuse the rubber from a large mound of waste tires at Midway and throughout the county, where freelance dumps have occurred.”

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