TDEC partners with counties to clean-up Butler tire site

By Jennifer Lassiter
star staff

  BUTLER-- As autumn creeps around the corner, a scenic drive along State Highway 67 will no longer be an eye sore for residents and visitors. Thanks to a partnership between the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and several county officials, cleanup of a tire waste facility here began yesterday.
  Tourists trying to catch a glimpse of the brilliant mountain foliage and cool crisp air won't have to contend with mosquitos and other health hazards harbored at what one resident described as "tire world", the tire waste facility in front of her home and business.
  "Everyone in Butler is going to be happy, especially the ones up on the hill, " said Karen Gilbert, owner of The Pizza Place located behind the facility. "I just hate it took so long."
  TDEC along with Johnson and Washington Counties, Northeast Correctional Complex and U.S. Tire organized the cleanup effort on the former Lakecrest Amoco facility, 16430 State Highway 67.
  The site, owned by Jerry Kevin Gilbert, has been under investigation since Jan. 15. TDEC issued Gilbert several violation notices for improperly storing the tires and causing a public nuisance by harboring insects and rodents.
  Dumped tires provide a habitat for rodents and mosquitoes and also present a fire hazard. Tires can be recycled for other uses, including tire-derived fuels for utilities, paper mills and cement kilns, or they can be mixed with asphalt for roads and used in other molded rubber products.
  Gilbert was given until Aug. 27 to remove the tires, then TDEC officials conducted a follow-up investigation and found that Gilbert was unable to deal with the situation financially and otherwise.
  According to the manager of the Environmental Assistance Center (EAC), Mark Braswell, the center gave Gilbert until after Labor Day and then took action with the Washington County Tire Recycling Center, who, through a grant, will be removing all tires from the site.
  April Johnson, Tire Recycling Coordinator, organized the transportation of the tires. Johnson subcontracted the pickup and recycling of the tires to U.S. Tire in Concord, N.C.
  The help of inmates at Northeast Correctional Complex will speed the process along. "We expect to have all the tires out of here by Wednesday and Thursday at the latest, if nothing delays us," said Johnson.
  "They needed man power, and we've helped a number of times before at illegal dump sites, and transfer stations, so we always try to help when we can," said Warden Howard Carlton.
  The grant through the Division of Community Assistance of the Washington County Tire Recycling Center helps clean up tires not only for individuals but the public as well. "It's good to know these grants are out there, because it's the fastest, quickest way to get sites cleaned up," Braswell said.
  Gilbert will be held financially accountable for the removal of the tires, and a property lean will be sought if expenses are not paid, according to Braswell.
   Early Monday morning the cleanup and counting process began. TDEC has estimated 5,000 to 17,000 tires will be removed from the property and possibly another 2,000 tires will be removed from Gilbert's residence in Mountain City. At $70 a ton, and a ton consisting of approximately 100 tires, costs could run in the thousands of dollars, but an exact tire count will be made at the end to ensure proper billing.
  TDEC officials were on site Monday to ensure all cleanup terms were being met and a proper count of the tires was being recorded. Fred Willingham commented that TDEC officials asked Gilbert to move all the tires from his home in Mountain City to the Butler Tire site so they could be compiled and removed together, but he couldn't confirm or deny those actions had been taken.
  Mayor Dick Grayson agreed that the cleanup was long overdue. "I am certainly glad something is being done," he said. After nine long months, Butler residents are relieved to know there is light at the end of the tunnel.
  "I guess I'll have to start giving new directions to The Pizza Place," said Burchett. "I've gotten in the habit of telling people to look for all the tires."