Sunday, November 18, 2001

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) It took Willie Keeling more than three decades to accumulate nearly 3 million tires at what’s been called Virginia’s second-largest illegal tire dump.
State and local officials hope to clean it up within three years.
Roanoke County plans to set aside $1.41 million for the cleanup, to be reimbursed monthly by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.
A report to the Board of Supervisors earlier this month detailed the three-year plan intended to end decades of tire trouble and tire fires.
“I’m afraid we may be looking at four,” County Attorney Paul Mahoney said. “I’m afraid the money’s going to run out first.”
Mr. Keeling began collecting the tires in 1964 for his tire recapping business, but tires accumulated at his 139-acre site much faster than they left.
Mr. Keeling’s first tire fire broke out on Thanksgiving Day in 1974. It wasn’t as big as the great Frederick County tire fire of 1983-84, which burned out of control for months, but it did produce plumes of black smoke visible across the Roanoke Valley.
The next year, four more fires broke out at Mr. Keeling’s place.
After repeated trips to court in the 1980s, Mr. Keeling was convicted of illegally operating a landfill, unlawfully disposing of rubbish and maintaining a public nuisance. But neither the courts nor a state tire-disposal program got the problem any closer to resolution.
In 1987, Mr. Keeling said he moved 4,000 tires off the site. The next year, the circuit court gave him six months to set up a shredder to help dispose of the rest of the tires. That recycling project fell through.
Eventually, the county stopped pressing the issue when it became clear Mr. Keeling didn’t have enough money to solve the problem. He filed for bankruptcy in 1996.
The eventual solution may be moving the tires from Mr. Keeling’s unauthorized dump to the county’s landfill.
“There are several different legitimate uses of the tires,” Mr. Mahoney said. “You can’t just bury them in the ground.”
But you can shred them, mix them with dirt and use them to bury garbage. Old tires also have been turned into sneakers, park benches, fuel, even roads.
“That was working pretty good until a road caught fire,” Mr. Mahoney said. “The use that probably makes the most sense for us in the Roanoke Valley is to chop them up and send them over to the landfill.”
In addition to the $1.41 million the state is expected to reimburse, the county will spend as much as $20,000 for Mr. Keeling’s legal fees and $30,000 to $35,000 for a project manager to oversee the shredding and removal of the tires.

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