And what was once 50 dumped tires has now grown to upwards of 20,000.
Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez asked his fellow court members Monday if there was anything they could do to get the mess cleaned up and the responsible people prosecuted or at least bought to court.
Right now the case is in the hands of District Attorney Jose Aliseda.
Commissioner Ken Haggard said, “If that means calling him every other day until it hits the docket, that it is something that has to be done.”
Judge David Silva volunteered to call Aliseda but said that was all he could do.
“I can take the responsibility of talking to Mr. Aliseda as far as making him aware of the urgency of this,” Silva said.
At issue is a mound of used tires in the area of Second and Third streets.
And while cleanup sounds simple, it isn’t.
Commissioner Dennis DeWitt said, “Any time something sounds real easy, it turns out it is not.
“Tires are a special kind of critter.”
Environmental rules state that a person cannot have more than 500 tires on one’s property without a permit.
One person has volunteered to take the tires; however, because of the number, it would make it illegal for him to do so.
“He cannot without violating the law,” DeWitt said. “And then we are going to violate the law if we take them.
“We are not an authorized tire transporter. If we transport those tires we violate the law again. Our hands are kind of tied with what we can and cannot do.”
Health and Safety
Commissioner Carlos Salazar questioned why the county could not clean up the area under the umbrella of maintaining “health and safety” of the residents.
Neighbors in the audience on Monday told commissioners that the area is infested with rodents and tires are a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
“Under the umbrella of health and safety for our county residents, is there nothing we can do?” Salazar asked.
He said that the county could request reimbursement later from whoever is convicted of the dumping.
However, the other commissioners agreed that in this case, the county cannot clean up private property; however, they could at least schedule more frequent mosquito spraying.
How it began
Commissioner Rodriguez, in whose precinct the tires are located, said that the county was first contacted about the problem back on April 27, 2011.
Ron Fritz, who heads the county’s community affairs office, told the court that at the time it was Code Enforcement Officer Johnny Carabajal who approached the man living on the property about the tires. The man was being paid to take tires from a local business. At this time, it was only a relatively small amount.
“He was made aware verbally at that time what he was doing was illegal,” Fritz said.
Carabajal returned to the property on May 5, 2011.
“Again (he) was made verbally aware that he was in violation,” Fritz said.
On May 10, 2011, Carabajal took stronger measures.
“At that point we followed up with a warning letter,” Fritz said.
After 30 days, the time given to clean up the tires, the case was prepared and taken to the justice of the peace.
From there it was sent to the county attorney, who transferred it to the district attorney as a felony.
Citing financial concerns, commissioners cut the code enforcement officer position during a vote in September 2011 when they approved their budget.
Rosie Ramirez, sister of the man living on the property and owner of the land, said that she has been trying to stop the dumping of the tires since it was first reported.
“...When I saw the stockpile getting a little larger, I said, ‘You have to stop doing that. That is not something I want on my property,’” she said. “When I noticed he didn’t do it, I said, ‘You need to stop or you need to move.’”
In November 2011 she went to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality hoping it could help.
“Everybody was telling me they were doing the best we can.”
She said that she has tried to stop the growing pile since it was only 50 tires high.
“I knew it was illegal,” she said. “I saw it coming.
“I really would like to receive some help from y’all.
“I feel like the system failed me.
“I went to the police to prevent things from getting out of hand.
“It was like a constant dead end.”
Rodriguez said that he wants to know why the business that was disposing the tires on the property hasn’t been prosecuted.
“The business was letting (the man) take these tires knowing he wasn’t certified,” Rodriguez said.
“Of course he was paying a lot less to (him) than if he would have done it legally.”
Fritz said that his office was not able to gather enough evidence to present a case against the business – only the person receiving the tires.
Ramirez said that an investigation done by TCEQ all pointed to one tire shop as the source of the rubber.
“Shortly after he was investigated, he made arrangements and got the disposal means at his shop.
“The investigation has led back to that tire shop and I think there should be some accountability...”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.