- Associated Press - Saturday, May 10, 2014

FOUNTAIN, Colo. (AP) - Colorado’s role as a morgue for 60 million of the nation’s 100 million scrap tires is over: State lawmakers are shutting down tire landfills. A state-run $5.8 million subsidy program for tire recyclers also will end - by 2018 - under a bill that Gov. John Hickenlooper said he would sign into law.

Sprawling heaps of scrap tires - like the ones south of Colorado Springs and northeast of Denver at Hudson - are seen as environmental and health hazards. In addition to the fear of a large fire, the sites can act as havens for rats, rattlesnakes and virus-spreading mosquitoes. As well, support for the recycling subsidies soured among lawmakers after a questionable operator collected $578,246 in state funds and later was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

But as trucks hauling tires from tire dealers arrive each day at the landfills, site managers and a fire chief warn closure may create worse trouble.

Illegal tire dumping near Colorado Springs has increased by 10 percent to 15 percent over the past two years, said Hanover Fire Department chief Carl Tatum, who has had trucks tied up for days fighting tire-fueled wildfires that spew toxic fumes and oil.

“Now, I can see, we’re going to have even more tires being dumped illegally,” Tatum said.

Shutting tire landfills to try to spur recycling “doesn’t mean that’s going to happen,” said Twylia Sekavec, owner of Resources Management Company, who runs a tire landfill at Julesburg that stores tires from neighboring states. “Where are all these tires going to go?”

Colorado lawmakers’ crackdown reflects impatience amid a slow transition toward tire recycling. Converting tires to fuel, sports-field cover and construction material may render scrap tires more valuable. A company called CH2E plans to melt the tires stockpiled at Hudson, producing diesel and a type of steel.

The potential is huge for trash-to-treasure innovators because consumers generate 306 million scrap tires a year in the United States (5 million in Colorado) and 1.5 billion worldwide, according to the Washington D.C.-based Rubber Manufacturers Association.

The tire landfills in Colorado have given tire dealers low-cost options for disposal, which led to the nation’s largest stockpiles. Tire haulers from other states took advantage.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials and a task force have been brainstorming after a debacle in which the state subsidized tire recycler Magnum d’Or, the target of a federal securities fraud investigation ordered in 2012 to disgorge $7.7 million in profits.

“We’ve had lax laws and regulations for a long time and have ended up being a dumping ground. Ten years ago it started getting worse,” said Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood, a driver of the legislative crackdown. “We’ve had no control over waste tire haulers.”

Once Hickenlooper signs the bill into law, tire landfills won’t be able to accept tires after Jan. 1, 2018, and will have to close and clean up by 2024. In the meantime, landfills can take in only one tire for every two removed for recycling.

The $1.50 waste-tire fee that Colorado tire-buyers pay would drop to 55 cents.

Shutting down tire landfills will drive up the value of waste tires, CDPHE solid waste program manager Charles Johnson said in an emailed response to queries.

“Higher prices would discourage illegal dumping and encourage market development and diversification,” he wrote.

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