ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - It's no secret that people dump trash in New Mexico's desert. But what's sitting near the Rio Puerco southwest of Albuquerque is believed to be the states's biggest illegal tire dump.
A. B. Swanson has been collecting tires and piling them on his 40 acres almost since he bought the property in 2005. People pay him to take the tires.
"I charge them 25 cents," Swanson, 65, said. "At the dump they charge them dollars."
And tires are everywhere. He has them bordering his property line, in arroyos and up against banks where there's water the county said is part of the Rio Puerco.
When the Bernalillo County got word of the situation, its environmental staff moved in. The county got an $8,000 grant to assess how big of a problem Swanson has on his land and how to clean it up.
Investigators estimated he has at least 381,000 tires. That number might be conservative because so many tires are submerged in water.
"It's a violation of local and state law," said county Environmental Health Manager George Schroeder. "There are laws regulating scrap tires and how they should be hauled and disposed of."
The county said Swanson needs to apply for permits and submit an engineer-approved plan to the county to prove beneficial use of the tires. But he didn't do that.
So now the county may have to clean up the mess for Swanson and put a lien on his property.
"It would cost a million dollars roughly speaking to clean up all these tires. My budget it about $3 million," Schroeder said. "What programs and services and staff and everything do I have to sacrifice in order to clean up this one problem on this one property?"
Swanson said he has two uses for the tires. One, he wants to build a fence around his 40 acres to keep people from stealing his stuff.
"I'm missing three semi trucks, a farm tractor, two trailers and $12,000 worth of steel," an agitated Swanson yelled.
And two, he wants to keep the tires in the arroyos and against the water banks for erosion control. The county said you can't just dump the tires there.
"They have to know how much water you're going to stop or slow down, where it's coming from and how to engineer the structure that's going to send the water where it needs to go," Schroeder said.
But Swanson said he checked with the county's planning-and-zoning department when he first bought the land.
"I told them what I was going to do, and they said, 'We don't care what you do out there,'" Swanson said. He has plans for more tires including a horse corral and a mile-long horse racetrack, he added.
The county said nothing will be done without a permit. The county also took him to court last year to order that he get the required permits or clean up the illegal dump.
He did neither.
The county said his time is up. Officials plan on asking the state for financial assistance and a grant to help address the situation.
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