WAGON MOUND, N.M. (KRQE) - A rancher who dumped tens of thousands of tires on taxpayer-owned land and called it an "erosion control project" may also have made a ton of money on the deal.
That's according to a state Environment Department report issued earlier this year in which Wagon Mound rancher Harold Daniels admitted to receiving $2 a tire to dispose of the rubber in the Northeast New Mexico Regional Landfill, which he owns.
An Environment Department investigator estimated that the arroyo on state trust land contains 350,000 old tires, the report states.
"The manner in which the scrap tires, cut tires and mounted tires were piled in the arroyo (randomly tossed) appears to have been a method to potentially avoid disposal at the landfill and to save landfill airspace," according to the report by investigator Benny Kling.
That means Daniels could have made $700,000 and saved all that space in his dump.
News 13 first broke the story about the tire dump last spring.
(To see reporter Dean Staley's earlier report and take and aerial tour of the tire-filled arroyo, click here .)
In 2003, Daniels leased the tract of the land from the State Land Office under an agricultural lease, the report states. That same year, Daniels asked for permission to use old tires to stabilize the arroyo and stop it from eroding.
According to a 2003 inspection by the Environment Department, the 3,000 tires that were placed in the arroyo for that purpose did stabilize the soil, according to the report dated March 29.
But a year later, another inspection revealed that tens of thousands of scrap tires had been randomly tossed into the arroyo. And the number of tires continued to grow over the next six years, the report states.
"The additional piling of scrap tires seems to have no purposeful effect on soil stabilization," Kling wrote in the March report. "(The) use of scrap tires as a method of filling in the arroyo on state trust land appears to have been more of an economic convenience than a practical application."
State Land Commissioner Ray Powell said the lease didn't allow for economic gain.
"(That) would have been illegal business on state trust land," Powell told News 13. "The only thing he had the right to do on state trust land is an agricultural lease – a grazing lease."
Daniels told the Environment Department investigator that he grazed no cattle on the land and pastured 16 horses, according to the March report.
Daniels' actions violated the state's rules on tire disposal through "illegal dumping" and creating a "nuisance, harbor for disease and a potential for fire," according to the report.
"If that ever caught fire … that would burn for years," Powell said. "And that would be like a petroleum fire. It would be an enormous risk to the adjoining communities and the health of the land. And we're doing everything we can to get it cleaned up and get it cleaned up as fast as we can."
The State Land Office cancelled Daniels' lease and has filed a lawsuit against him in District Court.
Reached by phone, Daniels told News 13, "As far as I'm concerned it's (an) erosion control project. That's all I've got." The rancher then hung up the phone.
Auralie Ashley-Marx, head of the Solid Waste Division of the Environment Department, said her agency will let the State Land Office take the lead on getting the site cleaned up. If that doesn't happen, the agency will step in, she said.
Powell said his office is working on an estimate of how much it will cost to clean up the site.
"When you put 300,000 tires in an arroyo randomly, I have no idea how you call that, at least on planet Earth, an erosion control project," Powell said.
However, negotiations with Daniels could prove difficult and complicated.
That's because former State Land Commissioner Pat Lyons, now the chairman of the Public Regulation Commission, wrote a letter just before he left office in late December approving the dump as a legitimate erosion control project.
Recently, News 13 spoke with Lyons, who admitted that based on what he now knows about the project, the letter might have been a mistake.
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