WAGON MOUND- A massive tire dump that stretches through a remote arroyo in northeastern New Mexico will be cleaned up as part of a settlement reached with a ranching operation. State Land Commissioner Ray Powell and Environment Secretary Dave Martin announced the settlement with Daniels Ranches and Kansas Equity Investments on Friday. Hundreds of thousands of scrap tires were put on state trust land over several years by Harold Daniels, a Mora County rancher and owner of the Northeast New Mexico Regional Landfill. Daniels had said he diverted tires from the landfill as part of an erosion control effort. The State Land Office had issued a grazing lease on the trust land to Equity Investments. Under the settlement, Daniels will remove the tires and reclaim the area. He must also pay a civil penalty and a fee based on how many tires are removed.
The state has estimated that the cleanup could cost as much as $1 million.
State Land Commissioner Ray Powell, in statement released by his office, said, “Because of this lawsuit and the action taken by the Environment Department, the lessee has agreed to clean up the site by the end of November 2013 and to take additional action to restore the land to an appropriate condition after the tires have been removed – all at no cost to New Mexicans.”
“The Environment Department is pleased that all of the parties were able to come to an agreement that will restore the land impacted by this illegal tire dump and eliminate a public health hazard.” Martin said.
Efforts to reach Harold Daniels or his son Troy Daniels, co-owner of Equity Investments, for comment Friday evening were not successful.
The state trust land where the so-called “river of tires” is located is about 10 miles southeast of Wagon Mound. The estimated 300,000 scrap tires were dumped in a drainage arroyo.
The black swath of tires can be seen from the air miles away. Piled on top of one another, the tires fill in about three-quarters of a mile.
The tires were dumped in the arroyo over several years by Daniels.
Daniels has previously told KRQE-TV that he diverted tires from the landfill to the arroyo as part of an effort to control erosion. “With the blessing of the Environment Department, we started that project down there,” Daniels told the station. “It’s not a tire dump. It’s an erosion control project.”
The New Mexico Environment Department did in fact sanction the project years ago. Photos of the site from 2006 show tires carefully placed flat on the ground at the head of an eroded area. The tires had silted in and grass was growing.
Auralie Ashley-Marx, head of the department’s solid waste bureau, said in 2011 that Daniels abandoned the placement method and just started throwing more tires in the arroyo from the back of pickup trucks.
Daniels has submitted engineering documents to the department maintaining the tires were a legitimate form of erosion control.
The Environment Department’s solid waste bureau said it wasn’t until 2008 that the bureau and Daniels learned the tires were on state trust land. The bureau informed the previous administration at the Land Office in 2009.